The news that the University of Oxford has developed a COVID-19 vaccine that appears safe and has triggered an immune response, is an encouraging step in our long journey toward returning to normality. It also provides the opportunity to join forces to tackle the pandemic and highlight Africa’s scientific leadership.
Africa’s first COVID-19 case was found in Egypt in February. By May, it had completed its spread across the continent, with Lesotho the final country confirming a case. Today, we are slowly edging towards a million cases while almost 20,000 people have lost their lives.
But how we are impacted goes beyond these numbers. In February, you wouldn’t have thought twice about hugging a friend or an elderly relative. Now you hold back, unsure of the risk. And of course, there is the cost to the economy: scores of people have lost their jobs, with thousands fighting for the few that remain.
Social distancing and the restrictions put in place by governments have been crucial in helping us manage the pandemic, but we can’t stay distanced forever.
That’s why the news around the University of Oxford vaccine is so welcome. Never before have we seen such encouraging results so early in the process. While we still have a long way to go before we arrive at a safe and effective vaccine, these results give us hope that a vaccine is possible, and we are on the right path.
Building on these initial results, the University of Oxford trial will now move to expand the number of participants to ensure the results can be repeated across regions and help identify any potential side-effects.
South Africa is one of four countries where clinical trials are being held. This is happening as scientists across continents join forces in an array of other vaccine trials. A final vaccine, albeit not guaranteed, may still be many months, (or possibly even years) away, but when it arrives, we can be assured it will be safe and effective.