By Sharon Atieno

Given that Africa is trailing behind in vaccine development and clinical trials, experts say that collaboration is key to improving the status especially during this COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking during a webinar held by Cornell Alliance for Science and Science Africa, Prof. Omu Anzala, Lecturer virology and immunology, University of Nairobi said that there was need for more African countries apart from Senegal, Egypt and Morocco to venture into vaccine development.

However, he said: “ We are not advocating that each and every country should get into manufacturing, but we can get into regional blocs and then those regional blocs can specialize.”

Prof. Anzala added that each regional bloc would make different immunogens but under the umbrella of the African Union.

“Having regional blocs to develop structure and systems to be able to manufacture these vaccines is the way to go,” noted Dr. Michael Owusu, Clinical Microbiologist and lecturer Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana.

Both agreed that Africa can take advantage of the new technologies such as messenger RNA, duplicating RNA, self replicating antigens among others to hasten the vaccine development process and spread the vaccines across all regions of the continent.

Clinical trials

According to clinical.gov website, only 8 of 102 clinical vaccine trials were being conducted in Africa while 56 out of 1098 clinical studies on new drugs underway globally are being done in the continent.

Prof. Anzala said that though vaccine products are not made in Africa, governments must be swift to make consortiums locally or regionally to do clinical trials in their own communities to find out the safety and efficacy of vaccines.

Dr. Owusu noted that Africa has not established a system to be able to support vaccine development, thus the only hope is to collaborate with western partners to form consortiums for them to come and manufacture these vaccines and bring them to the continent to conduct trial.

Emphasizing the importance of participating in vaccine trials, he said: “ Vaccine have to be tried on different populations to understand how they will perform in a population.”

Dr. Owusu noted that an imported vaccine may not achieve the same efficacy in Africa as it achieved in the country or continent of origin.

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