Protest vs. Africa’s 1st COVID-19 vaccine trial shows fears

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JOHANNESBURG — A protest against Africa’s first COVID-19 vaccine trial was underway 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 rumor 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 …

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