COVID-19 in Africa :
Vaccine Trials : are Africans Being Used as Guinea Pigs? How Widespread is Covid in Africa ?The Effectiveness of Lockdown in Under-Developed Countries?
The following article is sourced from CGTN Talk Africa, an interview with Prof. Shabir Madhi, Professor of Vaccinology at Wits University and Arnaud Bernaert of the WEF. Beatrice Marshall conducts the interview.
The first trials for a Covid-19 vaccine have already begun in the UK with 4000 volunteers who will be closely monitored over the next few months. The second phase of the trials, which is a collaboration between the universities of Oxford and Witwatersrand, has now begun in South Africa where, since 24 June, 2000 people have had the trial vaccine. The South African trials are being led by Prof. Shabir Madhi, Professor of Vaccinology at the University of Witwatersrand. The third phase of the trials will be in Brazil.
Prof. Shabir Madhi explained that the trial vaccine is not a live vaccine, i.e it is not delivered orally, so therefore people cannot fear that the vaccine will give them Covid as it is impossible. He explained that the trial vaccine delivers a protein which the immune system recognizes as a foreign body which then activates an immune response. The immune system then produces anti-bodies to fight the foreign protein.
He explains that the trial vaccine may not protect someone from being infected with Covid but that it will hopefully protect them from becoming clinically ill.
In response to the question of Africans being used as guinea pigs for medical trials ,Prof. Madhi makes the point that the narrative of vaccines not being safe is a dangerous narrative.Diseases likeTB, HIV, Ebola, Malaria are diseases that affect low-income countries, i.e POOR PEOPLE LIVING IN UNINDUSTRIALIZED COUNTRIES ARE MORE LIKELY TO GET ILL.
The vaccine producers are in the high income countries and actually struggle to test various vaccines on a range of demographics . More than 80-90% of participants in vaccine trials are of Caucasion origin. The vaccines need to be tested in places where the diseases are prevalent.
It is therefore false to say that Africans are used as guinea pigs in vaccine trials.
He confirms that the world regulatory bodies will not allow vaccines to be liscenced if they are not seen to be safe. If they are not safe they will not see the light of day. That is the reality that we need to accept.
With the Covid pandemic because all countries are being affected, there is no shortage of countries wanting to take part in the clinical trials.
It was the Department of Vaccinology at Wits University that approached Oxford and asked to be a part of the clinical trials and not vice versa. Wits had to fund itself in order to be a part of the trials.
Researchers think it will be 6-12 months before they will know if this vaccine is effective and produce 1 billion doses.
South Africa currently has the highest number of cases of Covid in Africa however these figures are in part due to the fact that it is also the African country that is carrying out the most testing. This is 5-10% less testing than is being done in Western countries. The critical issue is that just because South Africa has the highest number of cases, this does NOT mean Covid is not as wide spread in other African countries.
South Africa has yet to see the peak of Covid. Prof. Madhi states that South Africa is no where near reaching a peak or flattening the curve and that the rate of transmission is increasing rapidly. All provinces, including those worst hit , are on an upward trajectory.
In Gauteng (most populated province), hospital admittance of Covid cases are doubling on a weekly basis. In the eastern and western districts of Cape Province which are the worst hit so far, cases of hospital admittance are not slowing down.
This is what Prof. Madhi says about the effect of lockdowns in poorer countries.
“So I think we need to be clear that the lockdown on its own especially in the absence of having adequate resources to do testing at the very low threshold and to be able to trace down contacts of those individuals and put them in quarantine, a lockdown does not eliminate the virus.
And I think that it`s a very naive approach many African countries have adopted without any understanding of what is required to be coupled with a lockdown to be successful in terms of slowing the rate of transmission of the virus. So the fact that we are opening up ( the economy) is simply driven by the reality that even during a very stringent lockdown at an early stage of the epidemic there was ongoing community transmission which basically tells us ,that unfortunately tells us ,that large parts of the population, their livelihoods were being affected by the lockdown and consequently they couldn`t abide by what the lockdown actually required of them and coupled with, we didn`t have an adequate testing strategy in place.
That is the reality. So taking an approach that has worked in Europe and that is possibly working in China, is not one that you can sort of export to sub Saharan African countries and expect it to have the same effect. I think that`s a very naive approach and in fact if anything what we`ve shown in South Africa as an example is that indirect consequences of that approach to Covid-19 probably will exceed the direct consequences of Covid-19.”