Ugandans will have to wait a little longer for a COVID-19 vaccine, scientists have said.
They said the vaccine would only be available in the first quota of next year and recommended that the practical solution for African countries is to try and slow its spreadthrough preventive measures such as wearing of face masks and social distancing.
Globally, there over 11.8 million cases of COVID-19, with over 500,000 deaths reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO). The African continent has so far registered about 520,000 cases and over 7,000 deaths. By Thursday, Uganda registered 1,000 COVID-19 cases.
This was after Dr Henry Mwebesa, the director general health services at the health ministry, confirmed 23 new cases from 3,316 samples tested.
The confirmed cases included 12 Ugandan nationals who recently returned from Afghanistan (8), DR Congo (three) and South Sudan (one). Whereas Uganda has registered 908 recoveries and no COVID-19 related deaths, it is too early to celebrate.
Speaking during a WHO Africa online press briefing on COVID-19 and vaccine development in Africa on Thursday, Prof. Shabir Madhi, the Wits University principal investigator of Oxford COVID-19 vaccine trial in South Africa, said although there is excitement about the vaccine, there is still a long path ahead.
"We anticipate to have a vaccine available in the first quota of next year. This, however, is completely dependent on the clinical trials," he said,
calling upon Africans to be part of the trials. Reacting to claims that Africans are being used as guinea pigs for the vaccine trials, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa, said the significance in trials in Africa is to guarantee its efficacy among Africans.
"We want to help our people understand that participating is for our own benefit," she said, adding that many countries on the African continent have the capacity to develop vaccines. Moeti also said various discussions are going on across the continent to have the vaccine affordable for the vulnerable groups.
Explaining why the search for a COVID-19 vaccine will be a lot easier and take a shorter time than the search for the HIV vaccine, Prof. Pontiano Kaleebu, the executive director Uganda Virus Research Institute, said the virus and immune response of both diseases is different.
"If you look at the immune response of HIV, majority of the people who get infected cannot clear the virus. They get AIDS and eventually die. On the other hand, majority of the people who get COVID-19 will recover. Therefore, a person developing the vaccine wants to mimic the nature of the virus," Kaleebu said.
He also explained that whereas HIV mutates a lot, this is not the case for COVID-19, adding that the strain of the virus world over is not different. "We are, however, already concerned that there are few patients who get infected with COVID-19 and lose their antibodies quickly and this presents a challenge that the vaccine will not sustain the antibodies," he said.
Ugandan scientists under a project code named COVIDIT (COVID-19 Immune Therapy), recently embarked on a study on the use of convalescent plasma (blood donated by people who have recovered from COVID-19) to test its viability for treatment of COVID-19.
Whereas there are no proven treatments or vaccines for COVID-19, research in other countries has shown that treating COVID-19 patients with plasma from persons who have recovered from COVID-19 leads to faster recovery and prevents death. Plasma is the clear, straw-coloured liquid portion of blood that contains antibodies.