Ugandan Covid vaccine trial to start in 8 months

The Minister for science and Technology, Dr Monica Musenero pictured on November 26, 2021appearing before the Select Committee of Parliament that is investigating allegations that she misused Shs31 billion meant to facilitate the development of a local Covid-19 vaccine. PHOTO | ARTHUR WADERO

What you need to know:

  • Prof Enock Matovu, the lead developer of the vaccine at Makerere University, said they used the common white mice (not genetically modified) to test the safety of the vaccine.

The Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Dr Monica Musenero, has said testing the locally-developed Covid-19 vaccines on human beings will start in eight months.

Addressing journalists in Kampala yesterday, Dr Musenero said the vaccine, which has already been tested in common mice, has proven safe and it is capable of triggering an immune response.

She said the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Makerere University scientists is only waiting for the last testing on genetically-engineered mice before trials on humans can start. 

“It will take us three months to multiply the animals [genetically modified mice] so that we have enough numbers. The supplier says they are working with the airline to ship. It will take us another three months to run the experiments,” Dr Musenero said. 

She added: “And after that, we will be ready. Once we have good results, we are going to move directly and within six to eight months, we should be able to start human trials for the first vaccine.”

Prof Enock Matovu, the lead developer of the vaccine at Makerere University, said they used the common white mice (not genetically modified) to test the safety of the vaccine.

“We immunised them to help us investigate whether the candidate vaccine is safe whether it is not dangerous to life. We also investigated whether the animal responded by creating antibodies. We followed them over two months and we can confidently say the vaccine is safe because there was no death of the mice, and there is an immune response,” he said.

“The next step here is to find out whether this immune response gives protection from Covid-19. That is why we need the genetically-modified mice,” he added.

The update from the minister and scientists is coming at a time when some legislators and many Ugandans are sceptical about the said progress in vaccine development. Minister Musenero also faces allegations of mismanaging the Shs31b for Covid-19 vaccines. 

But she has since denied the allegations, and the recently released report by the Auditor General also did not indicate that there was mismanagement of the funds. 

Dr Sheila Balinda, another scientist at Uganda Virus Research Institute, who is developing a different type of Covid-19 vaccine, said they have also made progress despite challenges in accessing some key materials for vaccine development.

“Our next step now is to make bulk stock of the candidate vaccine which we are going to clean up and progress to the animal experiments. Our project was scheduled to end during the first quarter of this year 2022 and despite the challenges we have faced, we are still on course and will complete the targeted basic science research of the vaccine within this financial year,” she said.  

Dr Musenero said the vaccines being developed will help in fighting Covid-19 because it is still here with us. She said the technology will also be important in the development of other vaccines. 

She said she had asked the technical team from the World Health Organisation (WHO) to support the scientists. 

“WHO Africa region is sending a mission to Uganda, we expect this team on February 28. And they will spend 10 days in the country to give us guidance and support where we need and you shouldn’t be worried that our vaccine will come out and it will be substandard,” she said.