South Africa takes part in another Covid-19 vaccine trial

Friday August 14 2020

One of the first South African Oxford vaccine volunteer looks on as a medical worker injects him with the clinical trial for a potential vaccine against Covid-19 at the Baragwanath hospital in Soweto, South Africa.


South Africa’s new Covid-19 infections have been showing a steady downward trend, along with deaths, for at least a week, offering hope that the peak of the first wave of the pandemic has passed here.

The country has now enrolled in another Covid-19 vaccine test, with others expected, meaning that any proving to be safe and effective will certainly be available throughout Africa, once globally rolled out.

Despite this ‘good news’, public health officials have warned that the danger posed by the Covid-19 virus is by no means diminishing.

Professor Glenda Gray, CEO of the South African Medical Research Council and a member of the advisory committee being utilised by President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government for its expert knowledge on how to handle disease outbreaks, said any drop in public awareness or lapse in behaviour, given the virus’s pervasive presence, posed major public health threats, even if it appeared to be waning at present.

Any laxness could result in either a second wave of infections, as has happened in numerous places around the world, or worse yet, the pandemic could become endemic and perennially persistent, meaning that it would in effect “never go away”.

This view is supported by latest research showing that re-infection with the Covid-19 virus is possible, as was feared.


Lockdown restrictions

Prof Gray’s comments, made on a nationally televised news show, have cooled some enthusiasm here to ease lockdown restrictions, especially on the sale and consumption of alcohol, which is a key part of the suffering hospitality industry’s income.

Tens of thousands more stand to lose their jobs or businesses if the Ramaphosa government does not do something very soon to ease the current ban on the sale of alcohol, say industry groups.

But too much easing of restrictions on alcohol is widely considered among SA’s public health experts to be a ‘bad idea’ because of the extra burden on health systems posed by incidents and accidents resulting from intoxication.

Nevertheless, the costs of maintaining the current ban, re-imposed after a brief reprieve, are mounting and many hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, taverns, restaurants, bars and related businesses are going under, creating mounting pressure to open up.

Even with South Africa’s new infections and deaths declining steadily for the last week, they remain high, with the country having over 50 per cent of Africa’s more than a million known cases and over 10,750 known dead, with several thousands more likely Covid-related deaths.

While the worst may be over in major metros like Cape Town and Johannesburg, there are other smaller towns and rural areas now feeling the full effects of the virus.

At least three of South Africa’s nine provinces have recorded well over 100,000 cases, with many more likely to have occurred but which, because of remoteness and problems with testing, are going unreported.

As much as public health officials here are relieved that new cases have finally begun to drop in most high-density areas, there is still a long way to go, with consistently more than 100 new deaths daily – 130 as of Wednesday.

Also buoying up health officials that some light might at last be dawning is the falling death rate per infections here.

This shows local treatment protocols, using high oxygen flow for severe infections, is proving much better than intubation and use of ventilators – good news for African countries which literally have only a handful of such devices.

Treatment at remote sites for the severely ill still remains very difficult, if not impossible, however.