COVID-19 Vaccine Success: Worries for Africa

The failure to come up with a successful vaccine for the COVID-19 pandemic within the shores of Africa portends untoward implications for the continent. Ostensibly, the COVID-19 pandemic has become a major currency for power since it came into existence. After many months of lockdowns in the world especially in Europe and America, as well as dozens of death, the race for economic dominance is paired closely with the discovery of the COVID-19 vaccine. The World Health Organisation (WHO) disclosed that since the scourge, many investments have been made by companies and nations. This is clearly in a bid to gain economic and political influence.

The World Health Organisation noted that 170 COVID-19 vaccines were placed on trial, but only Moderna, and Pfizer, have shown 90 percent efficiency rate. Following this breakthrough, the European Commission has sealed a deal with Pfizer and BioNTech for the supply of over 300 million doses of their COVID-19 vaccine. The EU deal proposes that the 27 member countries could buy well above 200 million doses. The union further signed supply deals with AstraZeneca, Sanofi, and Johnson & Johnson for their experimental COVID-19 shots, while plans are being made with Moderna, CureVac, and Novavax to secure their vaccines. The US, closely followed by the EU and India, secures the largest number of potential doses.

Moderna has also received orders from the UK. The UK ordered 5 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine. The British government through Mike Hancock, its Health Secretary, confirmed the order. Hancock said that the government was convinced that the vaccine jabs were not harmful, and has proven effective to cure COVID-19. Perhaps, the British government finds Moderna more favorable than Pfizer because of its storage durability. Moderna is noted to last for up to 30 days in household fridges for 12 hours, and in medical freezers for up to six months.

But while major successes have been achieved in America and Europe, no breakthrough has been recorded in Africa. Africa had a short-lived lead in the COVID-19 Vaccine when Andry Rajoelina, President of Madagascar, declared that COVID-Organics, an herbal tonic derived from the artemisia plant and other plants, had been found to cure 99 COVID-19 patients. Unfortunately, the validity of COVID-Organics went into disrepute when countries like Nigeria, Tanzania, Senegal, Guinea Bissau, Chad, and Equatorial Guinea acquired the product for testing.

South Africa and Nigeria participated in the vaccine trials. South Africa began screening in August for about 3, 000 candidates to enroll in the mid-stage study of an experimental vaccine by Novavax at Witwatersrand University. The trial was funded by a $15 million grant awarded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. However, the vaccines could take a longer period for breakthroughs to be recorded. Nigeria, on the other hand, developed a vaccine by Professor Christian Happi, a molecular biologist, with his research team at the African Center of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID). The ACEGID COVID-19 vaccine had undergone the necessary pre-clinical trial, but progress was stifled due to funding. Although the FG had earlier initiated Nigeria’s policy response to the COVID-19 pandemic through the central bank, the healthcare grant of 500-million-Naira (about $1.3 million) was insufficient for vaccine production and clinical trials.

The African Union (AU) rose to the occasion, but did not focus on finding a cure as its core objective. The COVID-19 Response Fund set up by the AU was designed to ‘raise resources to strengthen the continental response to COVID-19, by supporting pool procurement of diagnostics and other medical commodities by Africa CDC for distribution to the Member States, and mitigating the pandemic’s socio-economic and humanitarian impact on African populations.’

As the world celebrates the success of a COVID-19 vaccine, it might take a longer period before it gets to Africa. America and other European nations, who have ample resources to acquire the vaccines, and also have efficient health systems to administer it to its affected citizens, have taken orders that place Africa at a detriment. This is particularly amplified with the introduction of the America First Vaccine Act by Senator Thom Tillis in September 2020, which seeks to prohibit the exportation of the COVID-19 vaccine, until the firms have met US demand. This has made President Mohammadu Buhari call for a ‘People’s Vaccine’. The President said that it was important there exist an ‘equitable access and distribution of the vaccines to protect people in all countries.’

Another major challenge pertains to the fact that the genetic composition of Africans was not taken into consideration when the COVID-19 vaccine was developed. This leaves the continent at disadvantage. The needed funds to secure the vaccines might also pose a problem. Unless the world shows empathy and fortitude, many African countries who are struggling under financial debt may incur more debts in order to resolve the COVID-19 pandemic in their countries.

There is no doubt that Africa is lagging behind in the competitive engagements of medical discoveries happening across the world. The inability of Africa to engage the rest of the world as equals is further threatened by its inability to intervene in world problems. The inability to develop homegrown cures leads to a reliance on global powers and a transfer of funds to countries like Canada, Germany, the USA, and other countries that continue to invest in high-level experiments. African nations, therefore, need to use the vehicle of the African Union to collaborate and establish a strong and effective front that all its inhabitants and its diasporans can be proud of. There is also an urgent need to scout for the best diasporans who have helped contribute to the medical excellence witnessed in Europe and America.

Peace Omenka

Photo Credit: WEF

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