2019 - Shabir Ahmed Madhi

Shabir Madhi was inducted as the inaugural Professor of Vaccinology at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in 2007. He is the Director of the South African Medical Research Council Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Analytics Unit (Wits-VIDA), and co-director of the African Leadership on Vaccinology Expertise (ALIVE). In 2021, he assumed the role of Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Wits. The National Research Foundation recognizes Shabir as an A-rated scientist since 2012, for his internationally recognized research in the field of epidemiology of vaccine preventable diseases and clinical development of vaccines. Shabir was the Executive Director of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) from April 2011 to September 2017. 

Shabir has led pivotal studies on vaccines aimed at preventing the leading causes of childhood pneumonia, diarrhea and sepsis deaths in children. Furthermore, he has been at the leading- edge of research on vaccines for pregnant women to prevent infection-related adverse foetal event and protect young infants against severe illness. In 2020, he led the first two COVID-19 vaccine trials undertaken on the African continent.  

The impact of his translational research has been instrumental to the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations for the introduction of the life-saving pneumococcal conjugate vaccine and rotavirus vaccine into national public immunization programs of low- middle income countries. Similarly, his studies on influenza vaccination of pregnant women have informed the WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) deliberations on the use of influenza vaccines in pregnant women, and the more recent studies on maternal RSV vaccination will also be pivotal to WHO recommendations regarding the introduction of this vaccine into low-middle income public immunization programs. 

Professor Madhi has served on multiple committees, including the National Advisory Group on Immunization (NAGI) in South Africa since 2000 which he was deputy Chair from 2013-2017 and Chair from 2018-2020. He has also served on many WHO advisory and technical committees in the field of pneumonia and vaccines, including being a member of the WHO Product and Development Vaccine Advisory Committee (PDVAC) and is currently one of fifteen members on the WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE). In addition, he has been an advisor to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Global Health Program since 2012. Shabir was the first African president of the World Society of Paediatric Infectious Diseases (2010-2013).  He has also served on multiple other scientific committees. 

Professor Madhi has received multiple awards, including being the recipient of the SA Medical Research Council Lifetime Achievement Award (Platinum Medal) at the age of 47 years (2013). He received the European & Developing Countries Clinical Trial Partnership Scientific Leadership Award (2016) and National Research Foundation President’s Award for Transformation of the Science Cohort for his outstanding role in addressing the challenge of encouraging more women and black scientists to advance to world-class research performance (2009); the NRF-National Science and Technology Forum’s TW Kambule Award: Senior Black Researcher (2010); and the Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Research at Wits (2010). He also received the European Society for Paediatric Infectious Diseases (ESPID) Young Investigators Award in 2006. In 2012 he was elected to the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAF), and in 2017 was elected as a member of the Royal Society of South Africa and The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS).

Shabir has co-authored more than 500 peer-reviewed scientific articles since 1997, many of which are published in the highest- ranking medical journals globally, including multiple manuscripts in The New England Journal of Medicine, and The Lancet series of journals. Furthermore, he has supervised 25 Doctorate students, five of were awarded the Faculty of Health Sciences most-prestigious post-graduate award, and many of whom now occupy senior positions in academia. 

Shabir plans to use the Oppenheimer grant to identify novel protein epitopes of Group B streptococcus which have the potential of being vaccine candidates, or to be used as conjugating proteins for polysaccharide-based vaccines. Such GBS vaccines will be targeted at pregnant women, to confer protection to their infants against the most common cause of community associated severe bacterial invasive disease in South African newborns.