Russian Covid-19 vaccine is good news – but it’s still early days: Mkhize

Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize says that he is aware of ongoing developments of a new Covid-19 vaccine in Russia, but has warned that vaccine trials undergo several steps of development before they are given the green light.

Russsian researchers announced this weekend that they might be the first in the world to develop a Coronavirus vaccine, as they have completed tests on volunteers.

Russia’s Vektor State Research Center for Virology and Biotechnologies said it has successfully completed pre-clinical trials of an anti-coronavirus vaccine, Anna Popova, chief of the Russian sanitary watchdog, said on Friday.

“Colleagues have finished pre-clinical trials. They were successful. Actually, we have practically all the grounds to be sure that things will go as we promised, i.e. we plan to begin clinical trials on July 15,” Popova said in an interview.

However, Mkhize said that there were a number of steps that will need to be followed – even if the vaccine is successful.

“You have to do work at the laboratories, do the research, move to animal studies and when it passes that, you have to move to a human trial,” he said.

“The same trial is going on in the US, UK, Brazil and other countries. We’re not yet at a point where we’ve got a ready vaccine. It is good news, yes, but it is work in progress. It is still early days.

“We haven’t come to a point where we can just go to Russia and source a vaccine for South Africans.”

When will South Africa get a vaccine? 

Africa could have a Covid-19 vaccine in the first quarter of 2021 if human trials underway in South Africa succeed, said Shabir Madhi, professor of vaccinology at University of Witwatersrand who is leading the local trial.

Madhi said that the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 experimental vaccine is one of 19 being tested on humans globally.

The vaccine is also being tested in Brazil by Oxford University scientists.

“A vaccine could be made commercial as early as the beginning of next year,” said Madhi.

“But it is completely dependent on the results of clinical trials,” he said, cautioning that out of the 19 potential vaccines being tested, the most positive outcome would be if just two succeed.

Madhi said that trials will depend on 2,000 volunteers aged 18-65 years who will be monitored for 12 months after vaccination to assess its efficacy.

He added that early results could be seen by November or December.

“The timing of an efficacy read-out depends on when we have approximately 42 Covid-19 cases at least one month after vaccination,” he said.

Read: High hopes for Covid-19 vaccine being tested in South Africa

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Russian Covid-19 vaccine is good news – but it’s still early days: Mkhize