#Aids2020: Why the COVID19 vaccine also needs to be tested in Africa

#Aids2020: Why the COVID19 vaccine also needs to be tested in AfricaHealth minister is concerned that children are missing vaccinations (file photo)

Experts say that testing a Covid-19 vaccine on the continent does not mean that Africans are being used as guinea pigs.

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A Covid-19 vaccine should be tested in Africa to understand how it reacts to the biological make-up of the continent’s population, says the World Health Organization (WHO) Africa region’s Director Dr Matshidiso Moeti.

Africa has more than half a million Covid-19, according to the WHO Africa region latest figures. Moeti emphasises that this does not that mean that African people are being used as guinea pigs for the vaccine trial.

She was speaking at a virtual press briefing on the COVID-19 and vaccine development in Africa.

“It is extremely important that these tools be tried out in African populations, so that we can understand how they interact with us and we can see how to benefit, and most importantly, one of the principles as well, is that once people have participated in vaccines development trials they have the rights to have access to those tools,” she says.

Important that participants understand what the study is about

Principal investigator of the Oxford Covid-19 Vaccine trial in SA, Professor Shabir Madhi, adds that participants have a right to choose to be part of a vaccine trial or not.

“Participants need to be of legal age to sign their own consent. As much as they are able to exercise a right to vote, equally so they are able to make an informed decision as to whether they interested in volunteering to participate in the study. They also need to “pass” an assessment of their understanding of what the study is about before then allowed to voluntarily enrol into the study,” he says.

 Covid-19 vaccine may come sooner than we think

A Covid-19 vaccine is likely to be developed before a HIV vaccine is, says Director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the Medical Research Council Uganda Research Unit, Professor Pontiano Kaleebu.

“In Covid 19, we are aware that many people do get infected, and they do recover. The majority of people recover, and the recovery is mostly the immune system, and what vaccine developers do, is to try to mimic nature,” he says.

This has not been the case for HIV.

“…nature has not succeeded. So, there’s nothing really to mimic. So, in the HIV vaccine we’re trying to understand what the protective immune response is. For Covid-19 because people do recover it may be easier to correlate recovery, with a memory system, and then you design your vaccine to mimic nature.” he explains.

 Accessibility of the vaccine

Madhi says once an effective vaccine is developed, it will be the responsibility of governments to ensure that people have access to it.

“No vaccine is going to remain available freely to work because someone needs to eventually pay for it. It’s hard to actually develop a funding mechanism, which allows for access and equitable access across the globe contracts which is sort of money that’s a solid funding mechanism that’s been developed especially for low, middle-income countries, countries such as South Africa, which would need self-funding,” says Madhi.

He continues: “The onus is on the part of governments throughout the African continent to be proactive in engaging with the various initiatives to ensure that when the vaccine becomes available that they’re actually able to access the vaccine, it’s not the responsibility of industry.”-  Health-e News.