Human trials for vaccine begins

Many deaths are still likely to hapen because of the coronavirus, but a promising vaccine against Covid-19, developed by the University of Oxford, started human trials this week. UKZN scientists warn many deaths still likely before virus is conquered

By TANYA WATERWORTH, Saturday Independent, 25 April 2020

That was the latest yesterday during an update on the pandemic from infectious disease specialist at KZN Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform (Krisp), University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), Dr Richard Lessells, who has also been part of the UKZN Covid-19 war room team.

Lessells said South Africa was being recognised for its successful handling of the outbreak and the country would have been reporting about 50 000 cases had it followed the UK trajectory.

According to the latest figures released on Thursday night by Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, South Africa had 3 953 confirmed cases, with 75 deaths.

But with a record jump of a daily increase of 318 cases, Lessells said yesterday that South Africans should not become complacent.

President Cyril Ramaphosa relaxed the complete lockdown status of the country to a level 4 as from next Friday, allowing some business sectors back into the economy.

Lessells said South Africa's trajectory of cases was similar to that of Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand who have all been more successful in containing the virus than Europe and the US.

'This was primarily due to the very early response and lockdown before we had one death reported, which was significantly earlier than many other countries,' he said, adding that the proactive measure of ramping up testing and screening would also help to identify cases in communities and reduce transmissions.

On a global scale, he said, 'the reality is this disease is going to cause many deaths', while in South Africa, the fact that winter and the flu season were approaching would see an increase in deaths.

He highlighted that across the world, scientists had been sharing research on a scale never seen before and to already have a human trial

beginning within four months was a 'remarkable pace' for science.

This week the University of Oxford began its human trial phase which will include just over 1 000 people.

'Oxford developed a vaccine for one of the previous coronaviruses, which is why they have been able to develop quickly and get to human trials. But there is so much more collaboration on vaccines in the scientific world. This virus is not only going to change us as a society, but also as a scientific society,' he added.

Also on the UKZN war room team, Professor Francesco Petruccione, interim director at National Institute for Theoretical and Computational Science (NITheCS) and Pro Vice-Chancellor for Big Data and Informatics, agreed, saying, 'we have all embraced that science is to be shared and this is going to stay with us longer than Covid-19'.

This week a team of world-renowned scientists based at UKZN launched a fund-raising campaign to support the analysis of Covid-19 data, which could provide vital research and insight on the spread of the virus across South Africa and globally.

Krisp and the Big Data Flagship Programme of the UKZN has a multidisciplinary team of world-renowned experts which focuses on analysis and control of viral outbreaks and genomic analysis.

They have produced five of the six Covid-19 viral genomes in the country, which clearly showed how the virus was introduced into South Africa. Earlier this week, director of Krisp, Professor Tulio de Oliveira said, 'We have been reversing the brain drain and attracting top South African researchers back to the country,' said De Oliveira.

The government has already used the team's results to show that South Africa is flattening the curve.

By supporting the campaign, donors qualify for a section 18A tax certificate issued by the UKZN Foundation.

To donate to Krisp and the UKZN Foundation in fighting the coronavirus, go to BackaBuddy at

Click on the image or in this link to access all KRISP COVID-19 Scientific news

KRISP and UKZN Foundation campaign to support South African Scientists on the front line

News date: 2020-04-25


KRISP has been created by the coordinated effort of the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) and the South African Medical Research Countil (SAMRC).

Location: K-RITH Tower Building
Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine, UKZN
719 Umbilo Road, Durban, South Africa.
Director: Prof. Tulio de Oliveira