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Wits University senior clinicians volunteer for Covid-19 vaccine trial

- Wits University

Senior clinicians in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Wits University have volunteered to participate in South Africa’s first Covid-19 vaccine trial.

Volunteers were screened on Friday, 10 July and those found eligible to participate in the trail were vaccinated on Tuesday, 14 July at the Soweto trial site in Johannesburg.

According to Wits Professor of Vaccinology, Shabir Madhi, who leads the South African Covid-19 vaccine trial, the legacy of vaccines shows that they don’t necessarily work similarly across different populations.

“We really need to generate data applicable to the local context. A number of past vaccines have been shown to be highly effective in high-income settings, but when evaluated in low- and middle-income settings [like South Africa], the vaccines were found to be much less effective and, at times, not effective at all,” says Madhi.

Dr June Fabian, nephrologist and Research Director at the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre, explained her motivation for volunteering for the trial: “For me it’s about supporting local scientists to do world-class science. I think it’s amazing that South Africa is a Covid-19 vaccine trial site and to be a part of that is very exciting. We must support each other as a Wits community and we must support our colleagues.” Fabian was  one of the scientists involved in the world's first intentional HIV positive liver transplant in 2018.

Dr Jean Fabian nephrologist and Research Director at Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre is vaccinated in SAs first Covid19 vaccine trial 600x300.jpg

Leading HIV clinician, Professor Francois Venter, Divisional Director of Ezintsha at Wits University, said of his participation in the trial: “This collection of Wits Faculty, between them, have first-authored some of the highest-impact medical articles on pandemics. It’s important to demonstrate how urgent and safe these [Covid-19 vaccine] studies are, and I have enough confidence in the science to put myself on the line.”

Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Wits and Professor of Surgery, Martin Veller, said of his vaccination this morning: “The coronavirus pandemic has caused massive disruption in the world to public health and economies. As a consequence, a vaccine is probably the only way to manage in the medium term. We need to get a trial done quickly. Anyone who can enroll, and especially we in the healthcare fraternity who understand the risks, should.” 

Veller added that he feels strongly that Africa needs to be involved in vaccine development so there is a moral obligation for the continent to be able to access the vaccine once it becomes available.  

Prof. Martin Veller, Dean of Wits Faculty of Health Sciences, is vaccinated in SAs first Covid19 vaccine trial 600x300.

Some in the healthcare fraternity are represented by the Progressive Health Forum (PHF), a national advocacy network of health professionals, activists and experts. Dr Aslam K. A. Dasoo, convener of the PHF and a trial volunteer, says that this vaccine trial is part of a multi-centre global effort to meet the greatest threat to humanity in living memory.

“Knowing that a vaccine is the best possible means of mitigating the global impact of the pandemic makes it a great privilege for me to participate in this study.  For those who have expressed anxiety at the trial being conducted here, my enrolment, together with other doctors and medical scientists, should provide comfort that the trial is safe. More importantly, it is a signal that South Africa is not only at the forefront of this scientific effort, but also makes it more likely that the people of our continent will benefit from a future vaccine,” says Dasoo.

If you would like to volunteer to participate in South Africa’s first Covid-19 vaccine trial, email for information or call 072 055 1249 (Soweto area) / 074 800 7772 (Tshwane area) / 064 850 0744 (Hillbrow area).

Madhi said: “If we want to make informed decisions at an early stage about whether these vaccines are going to benefit people in South Africa, it’s critical that we undertake the clinical evaluation during the start of the entire programme, rather than at the latter stage. Waiting for results to come in from other studies would just lead to a lag in terms of the timing when vaccines would be introduced in South Africa as well as other low- and middle-income countries.”

Madhi assumes the role of Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Wits in January 2021 after Veller retires.