The first human vaccine trial will be initiated in Africa in the month of June. Africa has now become a part of the race in the quest to find a Covid-19 vaccine. This vaccine was developed by Oxford University. Its trials on humans are being conducted in South Africa, Brazil, and the United Kingdom. Experts suggest that a vaccine is the one thing that will bring back normalcy in our lives, but trials have to take place in many different settings before there is one that is safe to use.
Scientists say that it is vital that Africans take part in these trials, arguing it could jeopardize efforts to find a vaccine that works worldwide - and not just for richer nations. The history of Western exploitation of Africa and unethical drug trials play a key role in the decision of the critics as they have cited this as a reason not to participate in the human vaccine trial for COVID-19.
Across the world, scientists are racing to find a vaccine for COVID-19. Without a cure, a vaccine is the only way to protect people from the disease and phase out social distancing. Research centers in the United Kingdom, the United States, and China are testing potential vaccines on local volunteers.
But scientists say that to get enough good data, they need to run a trial in different environments and on a range of people. Two French doctors suggested that Africa would be their ideal place to test the vaccine. That caused some serious outrage online; some people united under the #AfricansAreNotLabRats or, as others say is the Western Exploitation of the continent.
Experts who have studied pharmaceutical firms say that developing countries, like those in the continent, are attractive for medical trials. While the fact is easier and cheaper to find participants doesn’t make the trials unethical. What really matters is that there is informed consent. This is one of the reasons why medical trials in Africa are such a sensitive subject. There are also some renowned cases of unethical trials.
In 1996, in Kano state in Northern Nigeria, 11 children died, and dozens were left disabled after receiving an anti-meningitis drug called Trovan. Some of the parents said they didn’t know that their children were part of trials. This started a long legal battle between the American pharmaceutical company Pfizer and the Kano State Government. Pfizer denies that their drug caused the disabilities. They said, “Paying $175,000 for each of the families”.
But the story of those children stuck in many people’s memories, shaping their attitude to medical trials even though a lot has changed since 1996.
There is a reason why some African nations are keen to take part. Under international guidelines, if you test the vaccine and it is found to be effective, you must make that available in the country where you have tested it. So, if the trials in South Africa succeed, South Africans will be given access to the vaccine at an affordable price.