By Mary Asujo
Scientists working on a Covid-19 vaccine in Uganda have told legislators on the Presidential Affairs Committee that trials will commence in early March 2022.
The scientists from Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI), Joint Clinical Research Center (JCRC), Makerere University College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and Bio-security (MAK-COUAB) and Presidential Scientific Initiative on Epidemics (PRESIDE) appeared before the Committee on Wednesday, 23 February 2022.
Dr Sheila Balinda, a molecular virologist at Uganda Virus Research Institute said they have developed a vaccine using covid-19 strains that were experienced in the country. She added that the institute has also built capacity to manage epidemics in the future. Committee Members tasked the scientists to sensitise Ugandans on the progress made in research and when such products will be available on the Ugandan market.
“I am happy to report that so far, we have the three constructs for the strains that originated within Uganda meaning that we have made the vaccine at a molecular level. We have made one for our local virus, Delta and Omicron viruses,” said Balinda.
She added that pre-clinical tests will be conducted using model animals like mice and chimpanzees with objectives to determine vaccine safety, immunogenicity and efficacy with activities to commence early in March.
The Executive Director at Joint Clinical Research Centre Dr Cissy Kityo said that they have started identifying eligible donors of the immune plasma. This is collected from survivors of Covid-19 illness.
“The Food and Drug Administration of the United States which is equivalent to our National Drug Authority approved emergency use of convalescent plasma in patients especially those with underlying risk factors. That was the motivation for this project here ,” Kityo said.
Committee Chairperson Hon Jessica Ababiku said they will give the necessary support to scientists but asked for a comprehensive plan that can be used for lobbying.
“We want to see the products and priorities that you have on your table. You should market our local materials while doing your clinical research because this means the multiplier effect on what we offer will be higher,” said Ababiku.
Ababiku tasked the scientists to become specific on the manufacture of a Covid-19 vaccine in Uganda and when it shall be ready so that MPs can update the House and sensitise their constituents accordingly.
“We can defend your projects if you provide us with the right information. Tell us if there is no duplication in your work and how you are going to help our health system to work better, and whether there’s a gap you want to close,” Ababiku added.
Busia district Woman MP, Hon Hellen Auma tasked the scientists to explain why they are continuing with research to develop vaccine kits despite Health Ministry’s reports of declining numbers of Covid-9 cases in the country.
Nwoya County MP, Hon Tony Awany called for support towards the country’s scientists in their work, noting that a visit to JCRC indicated that all necessary equipment has been installed with trained staff for the jobs.
“If we can only give them the support they need, then we can make a breakthrough in nebulized treatment. Another stalled project of the stem cells ought to be supported which will go a long way in getting good products,” said Awany.