In South Africa, desperately looking for an anti-Covid-19 vaccine

While the richest countries have all started to immunize their populations, South Africa is one of the big forgotten ones. The only short-term solution for the inhabitants: participate in clinical trials. The New York Times investigated on the spot.

In a few months, nearly a million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine are expected to start leaving a factory in South Africa, the country hardest hit by the pandemic on the continent, daily. But these doses will likely be shipped to a distribution center in Europe before being sent to Western countries that have pre-ordered them by the hundreds of millions. None have been set aside for South Africa.

The country is not expected to have its first doses until mid-2021. Meanwhile, the US, UK and Canada are expected to have vaccinated more than 100 million people.

The first year of this health crisis has shown that a country’s wealth does not necessarily protect it from the virus. The arrogance and ignorance of certain warnings have cost the richest countries in the world dearly. But now money gives them undeniable advantages.

In recent months, they have concluded multiple agreements with pharmaceutical companies to ensure that they are able to vaccinate their population several times. China and Russia have carried out their own clinical trials and launched mass vaccination campaigns.

First doses in summer

But a country like South Africa finds itself in a very uncomfortable position because it cannot expect anything from charity. With its government virtually bankrupt and half of its people living in poverty, South Africa is seen as too rich to benefit from cheap vaccines from international aid organizations. If you are not rich enough but not poor enough either, you are stuck ”, summarizes Salim Abdool Karim, epidemiologist at the head of the National Council for the fight against the coronavirus.

Low and middle income countries cannot afford the open market prices and have come together in a complex vaccine sharing initiative dubbed “Covax”. As part of this, South African leaders hope to receive their first doses of vaccine by next summer. For many South Africans, the way to get vaccinated as quickly as possible is to volunteer to participate in a clinical trial.

Last month, as the UK began its vaccination campaign, dozens of people left their huts in Masiphumelele township, South Cape, to go to the Desmond Tutu Health Foundation.

For lack of anything better, participate in the trials

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Matt Apuzzo and Selam Gebrekidan

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