40 Kenyans volunteer to take part in human trials for COVID-19 vaccine


40 Kenyans volunteer to take part in human trials for COVID-19 vaccine
FILE PHOTO: A scientist prepares samples during the research and development of a vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a laboratory of BIOCAD biotechnology company in Saint Petersburg, Russia June 11, 2020. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov/File Photo

Kenya is in the next few weeks expected to begin its first COVID-19 vaccine trials following approvals by responsible authorities.

The trial is spearheaded by the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) in collaboration with the University of Oxford, with the trial testing the viability of the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine on 40 volunteers.

Seven months in and 37,489 infections later, although there is still no antidote for the coronavirus, there now appears to be hope on the horizon for Kenya.

So far the trial team has been issued with approvals from the Pharmacy and Poisons Board, the Ministry of Health, the National Commission for Science Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI), as well as the KEMRI Scientific Ethics Review Committee.

“Those who will be involved in the trials…their health and well-being will not be affected,” said KEMRI Director General Prof. Kombe Yeri.

The COVID-19 vaccine trial identified as ChAdOx1, was developed from a modification of adenovirus; a virus which causes a mild flu amongst chimpanzees. The modification is to avoid a similar immune response in human beings.

For that, researchers had to carefully extract a component of genetic material from a COVID-19 virus and insert it into the genetic material of the adenovirus, the specific component being said to stimulate the human body immune response.

It is more of this modified adenovirus that is made so a vaccine can be prepared, a similar approach that was used to make the Ebola vaccine that was used to contain the virus in West Africa.

But if at all the vaccine is to work, researchers will have to test it against another vaccine that has no effect in fighting COVID-19, to identify how well the vaccine works compared to the other substance that does not offer any protection.

Out of the 40 volunteers, some will be injected with the ChAdOx1, with another group, identified as the control group, being injected with rabies vaccine.

The participants will not know whether they have been given ChAdOx1 or the rabies vaccine, to make sure their behavior is not influenced by the vaccine given to them.

So far 8, 000 volunteers have received the vaccine in the UK, Brazil, and South Africa; Kenya now being the second country in Africa to take part in such a trial.

KEMRI indicates that the trial is in its 3rd phase, other vaccines in the same stage including, Moderna, Germany’s BioNTech, with Beijing’s Sinovac vaccine as well as Tianjin’s Cansino Biologics being in Phase 2.

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Story By Raquel Muigai
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