Fri | Aug 7, 2020

Protests mounted against Africa’s 1st COVID-19 vaccine test

Published:Wednesday | July 1, 2020 | 9:25 AM
People protest against Coronavirus vaccine trials in Africa, outside the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, Wednesday, July 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Protesters against Africa’s first COVID-19 vaccine trial burned their face masks Wednesday as experts note a worrying level of resistance and misinformation around testing on the continent.

Anti-vaccine sentiment in Africa is “the worst I’ve ever seen,” the CEO of the GAVI vaccine alliance, Seth Berkley, told an African Union vaccine conference last week.

“In general, people in Africa know the diseases and want to protect each other,” he said.

“In this case, the rumour mill has been dramatic.”

The trial that began last week in Johannesburg is part of one already underway in Britain of the vaccine developed at the University of Oxford.

Some 2,000 volunteers in South Africa are expected to take part.

It’s important that vaccines be tested in Africa to see how they perform in the local context, professor of vaccinology Shabir Madhi, leader of the new COVID-19 vaccine trial in South Africa, told reporters and others in a webinar Sunday.

But the small band of demonstrators who gathered Wednesday at the University of the Witwatersrand, where the trial is based, reflect long-running fears among some in Africa over testing drugs on people who don’t understand the risks.

“The people chosen as volunteers for the vaccination, they look as if they’re from poor backgrounds, not qualified enough to understand” protest organiser Phapano Phasha told The Associated Press ahead of the event. “We believe they are manipulating the vulnerable.”

The activist and political commentator brought up the widely circulated remarks earlier this year by a French researcher, Jean-Paul Mira, who said, “If I can be provocative, shouldn’t we be doing this study in Africa, where there are no masks, no treatments, no resuscitation?” He compared it to some AIDS studies: “In prostitutes, we try things because we know that they are highly exposed and that they do not protect themselves.”

“The narrative we got is our continent is a dumping ground,” Phasha said.

First ensure the vaccine works elsewhere before bringing it to Africa, she added.

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