The Africa’s first COVID-19 vaccine trial that began last week in Johannesburg may cause a lot of controversy as there is high level of misinformation about the vacine trial in the region.
The vaccine which was developed at the University of Oxford’s Oxford Jenner Institute is currently on trial in the UK, with over 4,000 participants already enrolled into the clinical trial. The vaccine which was named ‘ChAdOx1 nCoV-19’ is intended to prevent infection by SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Since March when the South Africa president announced the nation-wide lockdown, there have been hike in the number of COVID-19 cases as the country now records more than 159,333 confirmed cases with over 76,025 recovered cases and more than 2,749 deaths.
On June 24, the continent’s first COVID-19 vaccine trial started in Johannesburg where at least 2,000 volunteers were expected to take part. At the launch of the Vaccine VIDA-Trial, Shabir Madhi, Professor of Vaccinology at Wits University and Director of the South Africa Medical Research Council (SAMRC) Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Analytics Research Unit (VIDA) described the trial as a “landmark moment for South Africa and Africa” at large.
“It’s important that the vaccines be tested in Africa to see how they perform in the local context,” he told reporters and others in a webinar on Sunday.
“This is a landmark moment for South Africa and Africa at this stage of the COVID-19 pandemic. As we enter winter in South Africa and pressure increases on public hospitals, now more than ever we need a vaccine to prevent infection by COVID-19.”
On Wednesday, a group of protesters stormed the University of Witwatersrand, where the trial is based and accused the organisers of testing the vaccine on people who don’t understand the risks involved.
“The people chosen as volunteers for the vaccination, they look as if they’re from poor backgrounds, not qualified enough to understand,” Phapano Phasha, the protest organizer told The Associated Press.
“We believe they are manipulating the vulnerable.
“I believe in science and I believe that science has managed to solve most of the problems society is faced with. I’m not against vaccinations, I’m against profiteering.”
The protest which started on Wednesday has been generating fears and there is concern that the entire vaccine trial may start to face a lot of controversy in the coming days. This might be connected with belief among the people that Africa continent is a “dumping ground.” It will be recalled that lot of controversies were generated early this year when a French researcher, Jean-Paul Mira suggested that the COVID-19 study should commence in Africa “where there are no masks, no treatments, no resuscitation and where they are highly exposed and do not protect themselves.”
Responding to the protest, Professor Madhi, the Director in charge of the South Africa vaccine trial said prior to the commencement of the trial, participants were briefed about the trial and possible risks. He stressed further that each participant was given a questionnaire and those that scored 80% were chosen for the trial.
On Saturday 20th June, similar trial of the vaccine began in Brazil with over 5,000 volunteers across the country. The clinical trial which is being sponsored entirely by Brazilian entrepreneurs was approved on 2nd June by the Brazilian Health Regulatory Agency (ANVISA).