Vaccine trial results due in December

Close to 10 000 people have died of Covid-19 in the past 150 days since the country detected the first case. With about 140 000 active cases, South Africa is in the top five worst-affected countries in the world. And the peak has not hit yet. But scientists agree that South Africa has learned a lot from countries that have experienced their peak, especially with regard to treatments. 

The vaccine

Just more than a month ago, it was announced that Shabir Madhi, professor of vaccinology at the University of the Witwatersrand, would lead Africa’s first trial to find a Covid-19 vaccine.

Madhi said that the team expects to know by December whether the vaccine works. That doesn’t mean South Africa will get a vaccine by then. The manufacturing and distribution of the vaccine would still have to take place, but these matters are being addressed. 

The vaccine team is still enrolling about 2 000 participants. The study excludes people who have HIV and have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Madhi said the study will involve two phases. 

“We need to wait until 42 of the participants have developed Covid through natural infection. At that point, we will do an analysis of the results,” said Madhi.

Meanwhile, the Russian government is reportedly gearing up to roll out its homegrown vaccine within two months, with Minister of Health Mikhail Murashko quoted as saying the country plans to vaccinate teachers and doctors in October. 

But Madhi believes this is scientifically unsound.

“The Russians are rolling out a vaccine to its population and so have the Chinese to its military. You need to understand what the effect is going to be in terms of its safety and its efficacy before you roll out a vaccine to the population. 

“The reality is that the two countries have done this in the absence of scientific evidence that the vaccine would protect against Covid-19.”

(John McCann/M&G)

The ventilators

As work on the vaccine proceeds, the National Ventilator Project is shipping out hundreds of noninvasive ventilators. By Monday more than 800 of these ventilators will have been sent to hospitals. 

A few months ago there was no alternative but to put severely ill Covid-19 patients, who battle to breath, on traditional ventilators. There were not enough of those in the country, which caused considerable alarm. 

Professor Justin Jonas, the chief technologist at the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (Sarao), which is the project lead on the National Ventilator Project, said that, based on the experience in the United Kingdom, Italy and other places where Covid-19 has hit hard, “We have realised that, actually, what’s needed is an intermediate therapy; the so-called noninvasive ventilation.”

The two types of noninvasive ventilators being manufactured locally are the Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) and High-Flow Nasal Oxygen devices.

The number of devices being manufactured looks promising. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research is contracted to supply 10 000 units, according to the Sarao spokesperson, Khulu Phasiwe. 

“The Solidarity Fund has approved to increase production to 18 000 units with 63 000 patient circuits. This also includes support, tracking and tracing and distribution. 

“Save-P [the South African Emergency Ventilator Project] has been contracted for 2 000 blenders — the combination gives a total of 20 000 CPAP units,” he said. 

Phasiwe added that all the units are to be delivered by the end of September, in time for the expected peak. 

Other treatments:

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organisation director general, said dexamethasone “is the first treatment to be shown to reduce mortality in patients with Covid-19 requiring oxygen or ventilator support”.

This comes after the findings of a randomised clinical trial to test a number of potential treatments in the United Kingdom through the University of Oxford. 

Dexamethasone is a corticosteroid that has been in use since the 1960s to reduce inflammation in a range of conditions, including certain cancers. 

A very ill person’s body tries to fight off the virus, causing inflammation in the process. The drug works by suppressing the immune system. For this reason, dexamethasone is not being given to people with mild cases of Covid-19. 

South Africa’s Health Products Regulatory Authority spokesperson, Yuven Gounden, said the treatment is widely used for patients in hospital. 

“The medical fraternity has kept a keen eye on the medical literature in an attempt to ensure that they are up to date with ever-growing knowledge on the performance of old and newer treatment modalities targeting Covid-19 infection,” said Gounden.

He added that although there are no registered medicines for treating Covid-19 infections, other medicines have been used in the past few months for the management of Covid-19 infections.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Athandiwe Saba
Athandiwe Saba

Athandiwe Saba is a multi award-winning journalist who is passionate about data, human interest issues, governance and everything that isn’t on social media. She is an author, an avid reader and trying to find the answer to the perfect balance between investigative journalism, online audiences and the decline in newspaper sales. It’s a rough world and a rewarding profession.

Related stories

Richard Calland: Not much has shuffled in the political pack

Stocktake at the end of a momentous year shows that the ruling party holds all the cards but has little room for manoeuvre

Tighter Covid restrictions for N. Mandela Bay — other hotspots may follow

With the number of cases spiralling out of control in hotspots in the Eastern Cape and Western Cape, longer curfews and restrictions on alcohol sales are being implemented

Watch it again: Ramaphosa addresses the nation

The president's address follows a special sitting of Cabinet, which considered recommendations of the National Coronavirus Command Council

Excess deaths rise, starting in Covid hotspot Eastern Cape

As the pandemic’s second wave spreads through the country, the number of excess deaths increases too

The edutech sector is set to see a boom

Mobile data costs need to come down or edutech sites be zero-rated, though

Corruption forces health shake-up in Gauteng

Dr Thembi Mokgethi appointed as new health MEC as premier seeks to stop Covid-19 malfeasance

Subscribers only

FNB dragged into bribery claims

Allegations of bribery against the bank’s chief executive, Jacques Celliers, thrown up in a separate court case

Dozens of birds and bats perish in extreme heat in...

In a single day, temperatures in northern KwaZulu-Natal climbed to a lethal 45°C, causing a mass die-off of birds and bats

More top stories

Blast rocks Durban’s Engen refinery

Residents are being evacuated as firefighters battle to control the blaze

ConCourt asked to rule that Zuma must testify for 10...

It is Zondo's legal end game and will leave the former president, his supporters and those implicated in state capture to increasingly play fast and loose at imputing political motive to the commission

Carlos on Oozymandias’ goodbye grift

"Look on my works ye Mighty, and gimme 50 bucks!"

This is how the SIU catches crooks

Athandiwe Saba talked to the Special Investigating Unit’s Andy Mothibi about its caseload, including 1 000 Covid contracts

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…