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COVID-19 Conversations Podcast: Participation in vaccine trial 
17th December 2020

The African Alliance spoke to three COVID-19 vaccine trial participants about their experience in the trials, their hopes and fears, and what they want their fellow global citizens to know about the research process. One of the guests on the Podcast was Brett Kissela, MD, senior associate Dean for clinical research at the UC College of Medicine and chief of research services at UC Health. 

 

His insights also highlighted differences and similarities across South Africa and the United States in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. You can listen to the podcast here. 

SA’s vaccine hesitancy could undermine the millions invested, says experts 

16th December 2020

NOTE: Affiliation of Tian Johnson listed by AfroCentric is incorrect: Tian Johnson is the founder and lead of the African Alliance (www.africanalliance.org.za) and a founding member of the Vaccine Advocacy Resource Group (www.thevarg.org)

The African Alliances Tian Johnson speaks about how vaccine hesitancy has the potential to undermine all the efforts that have gone into vaccine development, and the way forward will be finding the right people with direct influence in different communities.

https://www.timeslive.co.za/sunday-times-daily/news/2020-12-16-sas-vaccine-hesitancy-could-undermine-the-millions-invested-say-experts/  

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The public will buy into the vaccine programme if there is transparency in how the science is communicated, says Tian Johnson.

 

Vaccine hesitancy has the potential to undermine all the efforts that have gone into vaccine development, and the way forward will be finding the right people with direct influence in different communities.

 

So said Tian Johnson, speaking on behalf of the Vaccine Advocacy Coalition, at a webinar organised by the AfroCentric Group, a health-care investment company.

 

He said we can “invest millions in the right cold chain, and have all our science and infrastructure right, but if communities aren’t excited or are fearful of buying into it, it jeopardises all the work done so far”.

 

The best way to build trust and integrity is through transparency.

 

Most importantly, messaging has to be done in ways that are suitable to the cultural context, while “the best way to build trust and integrity is through transparency.”

 

Johnson said a positive move in the Covid-19 context, compared to research done for HIV, was that “there had been a huge opening up of science not seen before.”

 

Research has always been “traditionally very white and closed and exclusive in this country, but with Covid-19, we have seen scientists really opening up about their work”.

 

However, that alone won’t be enough: it doesn’t help to just “give out info”, he said. “Evidence shows that dishing out information does not counter hesitancy — a lot rests on the messenger and their potential to influence those around them.”

 

It is also important that the government doesn’t “engage directly with anti-vaxxers”, he said, as all this does is amplify anti-vaxxer power and give it a larger platform.

 

Also speaking at the webinar was Prof Greg Hussey, director of Vaccines for Africa at the University of Cape Town.

 

He agreed “the biggest conundrum” is whether people “will accept the vaccines or not”.

 

“A poll done a month ago in 27 countries found that 74% of people said they would accept a vaccine, but in SA it was only 64%. That means 36% would refuse, and reasons included worrying about the side effects or believing the vaccine was not going to be effective. Others were simply against vaccines in general, and still others said they were not at risk of contracting Covid-19 and thus did not need a vaccine,” he said.

 

Safety and efficacy undergo rigorous analysis at the trial stage, and despite the speed at which vaccines have been developed, this has not been compromised.

 

However, said Hussey, there are certain unknowns that require more time before a definitive answer is found: “What we do not yet know about these vaccines is how long the immunity conferred can last after someone’s been vaccinated. Also, while we know that they have reduced Covid-19 disease and severity, we don’t yet know if they [the vaccines] can stop community transmission. The most hopeful in this case is the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.”

 

He said data from the Cape metro in the Western Cape and Mombasa in Kenya suggested 40% of adults had antibodies by now, which would suggest that they’re protected, “but we don’t know for a fact”.

 

If they were, then theoretically only 60% of the population would need to get shots, but that is now how immunisation programmes work.

 

With the exception of Dengue Fever in certain contexts, “there is no vaccine programme in the world that first checks who has antibodies before vaccinating”.

 

The department of health’s Dr Anban Pillay said perhaps some people had shied away from the vaccines that used mRNA (messenger RNA) technology as it had been described as “new”.

 

Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and the Moderna Covid-19 vaccines use mRNA technology.

 

This means that genetic material called messenger RNA is introduced into the body and instructs human cells how to make coronavirus spike proteins.

 

These vaccines, using lipid nanoparticles, deliver the mRNA into muscle cells, and from there, the muscle cells make a spike protein which then readies the immune system to guard against infection.

 

This differs from more traditional vaccines which introduced a non-harmful version of a pathogen into the body so that the immune system could mount a response.

 

In Pillay’s words, “with mRNA, a viral genetic code is introduced into a cell and consequently stimulates the immune system”.

 

But, he says to those who fear this “new technology”, it is not in fact new.

 

“It is not an entirely new concept in medical science but it is the first time it is being used in vaccines. We should really not be overly alarmed that it’s ‘new’.”

All about South Africa’s first vaccine clinical trial
20th November 2020

Have you heard about the Oxford COVID-19 Vaccine trail? In South Africa, this trial is calledOx1Cov-19–the VIDA-Trial. VIDAisthe firstCOVID-19 vaccine trial in South Africa which kicked off on the 23rdof June 2020. The trial is a partnership between the University of Witwatersrand, University of Oxford, and the Oxford Vaccine Group, which is also partially funded by the South African Medical Research Council.

The South African Novavax COVID-19 Vaccine Trial 
20th November 2020

The Novavax Vaccine Trial is the second COVID-19 trial to be conducted in South Africa. Using the same technology as the flu vaccine, it will be tested at ten sites across South Africa in Gauteng, Western Cape, Kwazulu-Natal and the Free State.