Fingers crossed as global search for vaccine goes on

Thursday July 02 2020

A researcher works on a Covid-19 vaccine on March 23, 2020. PHOTO | THIBAULT SAVARY | AFP


There is hope for a Covid-19 vaccine, with several candidates either being deployed or undergoing clinical trials.

On Monday, China’s military approved a vaccine to be used within its ranks.

The vaccine was developed by CanSino Biologics, in collaboration with the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology, which is part of the Academy of Military Medical Sciences.

India’s Bharat Biotech’s Covid-19 vaccine (Covaxin), has also been approved for human trials in the country.

Last week, South Africa started the first clinical trial in the continent. The vaccine, developed at the University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute, is also being tried in the UK, in a study involving more than 4,000 participants. The World Health Organization identified 17 vaccine candidates that are under clinical evaluation.

At least half are from Chinese companies, with frontrunners being Oxford’s ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 (AZD1222) and Moderna’s (US) mRNA-1273.


Oxford’s vaccine is made from a virus – ChAdOx1 – a weakened and non-replicating form of a common cold virus (adenovirus).

China’s CanSino Biologics on Monday said data from clinical trials of the Chinese military vaccine had a “good safety profile” and could potentially prevent Covid-19.

According to the company, the vaccine will be used for one year by China’s Central Military Commission but will not be extended “without further approvals”.

Unfortunately, CanSino did not give assurance that the vaccine will be commercialised. Another 131 vaccine candidates listed by the WHO are in the pre-clinical trial phase.

In Kenya, researchers are looking forward to starting clinical trials for three drugs – Remdesivir, an antiretroviral drug, Lopinavir/ritonavir (used in HIV treatment) and hydroxychloroquine (anti-malaria drug), whose trial was stopped but is all set to restart.

In the COPCOV trial, chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine or a placebo, will be given to more than 40,000 healthcare workers in Europe, Africa, Asia and South America.

Recruitment to the trial had been stopped following concerns about side-effects raised by another research, which was discredited.

The withdrawn research had concluded the drug was “not beneficial and increased the risk of irregular heart rhythms and death”, making the WHO to halt treatment trials using the drug.

Chinese soldiers ‘bite the bullet’

Chinese troops will be among the first to get jabs of one of its leading Covid-19 vaccine candidates.

As humanity holds onto hope, science continues with the race for a cure. The global scientific community is working at an unprecedented speed to find ways to treat and prevent Covid-19, which first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan and has since infected 10.5 million people and killed 511,000 worldwide.

Although work began in January with deciphering of the Sars-CoV-2 genome, the first vaccine safety trials in humans started in March. The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified 17 Covid-19 vaccine candidates, which are in clinical evaluation, with another 131 in preclinical stages.

On Monday, Chinese biotech firm CanSino Biologics said in a statement to the Hong Kong stock exchange that China’s Central Military Commission had given the go-ahead to inject soldiers with the company’s leading vaccine candidate, known as Adenovirus Type 5 (Ad5-nCoV), for one year.

CanSino Biologics has been developing the vaccine in conjunction with the Academy of Military Medical Sciences, a medical research institute run by the People’s Liberation Army. The two organisations are basing the experimental Covid-19 vaccine on their previous collaboration on an Ebola vaccine in 2017.

In the statement, CanSino Biologics chairman Yu Xuefeng said the vaccine candidate’s Phase I and II clinical trials demonstrated a “good safety profile” and high levels of immune response in patients. But he cautioned that the trials only show the vaccine has the potential to prevent Covid-19 and that the military’s approval does not guarantee it will be authorised for broader commercial use.

Vaccine development ideally goes through a cycle from lab to clinic before it is approved for use. During a pandemic, however, a vaccine may receive emergency-use authorisation before getting formal approval under which regulators in each country review the trial results and decide whether or not to approve the vaccine. Scientists are racing to produce a safe and effective vaccine by next year.