Pfizer has chosen Dr Essack Mitha as its national principal investigator to head the Covid-19 vaccine study in the country
Pfizer has chosen Dr Essack Mitha as its national principal investigator to head the Covid-19 vaccine study in the country

Tongaat doctor chosen to lead Covid-19 vaccine trial in SA

By Janine Moodley Time of article published Nov 20, 2020

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Durban - A TONGAAT-BORN doctor has been chosen to lead the South African trial for a groundbreaking Covid-19 vaccine that has proven 90% effective in preventing the virus.

Pfizer, an American pharmaceutical company, has been working on the vaccine.

It chose Dr Essack Mitha as its national principal investigator to head the study in the country.

Mitha, who opened the Newtown Clinical Research Centre in Johannesburg, a private clinical trial site in 2004, has conducted more than 100 trials as a principal investigator.

He is originally from the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast and moved to

Johannesburg with his parents in 1999. He later qualified as a doctor at the KwaZulu-Natal School of Medicine, at the University of KZN.

In 2002, he opened a practice and in 2004 he started the clinical trial centre.

The clinical trials have been conducted across a wide therapeutic range, including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, rheumatology, diabetes, HIV and acute illnesses.

Two years ago, Mitha, 46, who lives in Sandton, also opened a holistic wellness centre and has served three terms as an executive member of the South African Clinical Research Association.

The Pfizer vaccine, which is in phase 3 of testing, is his current project.

The pharmaceutical corporation, working with BioNTech SE, plans to roll out the vaccine by the end of the year. It expects to immunise up to 50 million people by December and 1.3 billion people in 2021.

Mitha said South Africa was one of the countries chosen by Pfizer to determine how people responded to the vaccine.

Pfizer has already recruited more than 35 000 participants globally for phase 3 of the trial.

In South Africa, four sites – Newton (Johannesburg), the Western Cape, Limpopo and Pretoria – were chosen to conduct trials that started in September with 800 participants.

“It is a relatively small number of participants as compared to other trials currently in progress but it has the vote of confidence,” said Mitha.

“There is a lot of optimism at the speed at which these trials are developing results.

“We are working really hard to make sure our targets are met.”

He said the vaccine was fundamentally different from other vaccine candidates.

“This vaccine is not using live particles or live bacteria to fight the virus. It rather stimulates the immune system in a different way.”

For this particular trial, Mitha said two factors were considered.

“The first factor was to look if the product was safe. Globally, it was proven that there were no serious side effects.

“The second factor was to look at how long the vaccine would provide immunity against the virus.”

The current trial, he said, would look at this.

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