SADC nations weigh vaccine options

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Windhoek – With Russia rolling out a COVID-19 vaccine, and researchers in the United States saying they too could have a potential medical solution by December 11, African countries are plotting how best they can affordably access drugs for their citizens.

Several options are on the table, among them individual purchase plans, pooled procurement through SADC, and broader schemes through the African Union and the global COVAX facility.

Social and political activist Graça Machel this week told Lusa that Africa must “try to counter the selfish tendency of developed countries” that could lead to vaccine hoarding and overpricing.

“We know that the most developed countries are now working furiously to acquire most of the doses of vaccines that are being proven effective and are thinking of their countries pure and simple,” said Ms Machel, who is president of the Community Development Foundation, a non-governmental organisation in Mozambique.

“Instead of relying on northern countries to produce the same vaccines, one can produce in a developing country to respond to developing countries. We will try to counter the selfish tendency of developed countries to produce equally effective responses for Africa and Asia.”

To that end, 13 African countries and an international network of researchers have joined forces to launch the continent’s largest COVID-19 clinical trial in mild-to-moderate cases of the virus.

The ANTICOV clinical trial seeks to identify possible early treatment in such cases, and it will be conducted at 19 sites in 13 countries.

"There is a need for large clinical trials in Africa for COVID-19 to answer research questions that are specific to an African context," said the director of the African Centres for Disease Control and Preventin (Africa CDC), Dr John Nkengasong this week.

"African countries have mounted an impressive response so far to COVID-19 and now is the time to prepare for future waves of the disease. We welcome the ANTICOV trial led by African doctors because it will help answer one of our most pressing questions: With limited intensive care facilities in Africa, can we treat people for COVID-19 earlier and stop our hospitals from being overwhelmed."

ANTICOV will test various treatments on 2,000-3,000 COVID-19 patients in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, DRC, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Sudan, and Uganda. 

In Namibia, Health and Social Services Minister Dr Kalumbi Shangula said the country was angling for the COAVX facility.

COVAX pools money to make vaccines available for low and middle-income countries.

Dr Shangula said he had been mandated to advise on the best way forward for the government.

“We are working through the COVAX facility to make sure that we will be able to access the vaccine when it is availed and also at a reasonable cost,” he said.

COVAX will avail drugs at almost zero cost to low-income countries.

However, the World Bank classifies Namibia as a middle-income economy, and as such the country will have to pay at least 15 percent of the cost of vaccines when they become available.

Across the border, South Africa’s Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize this week told SABC that, “We have no bilateral engagements or agreements with the companies that have so far produced the vaccines or potential vaccines, but we are working on modalities to access the vaccine through the COVAX facility.

“We are also treating high risk areas, including the townships, as potential points of worry when it comes to the second wave. Whether we receive the vaccine early or late more effort should be cultivated in dealing with the potential risks of a second wave.”

South Africa also has a good shot at accessing vaccines developed by fellow BRICS members Brazil, Russia, India and China.

In addition, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni said the South African government would spend at least R5 billion (US$330 million) to access COVID-19 vaccines internationally. This is on top of the massive investment already going into local trials for internal development of a vaccine.

Elsewhere in SADC, countries are lining up to take advantage of the COVAX facility.

The COVAX facility is steered by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, the Vaccine Alliance and the World Health Organisation.

It has so far raised US$700 million of the targeted US$2 billion seed funding needed to guarantee the world’s poorest countries get COVID-19 vaccines.

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