Kenyan expert calls for equitable access to COVID-19 vaccine in Africa

NAIROBI, Nov. 27 (Xinhua) -- A Kenyan immunization expert on Friday urged African governments to take tangible actions to ensure the continent has equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccines once they become available.

Omu Anzala, professor of virology and immunology and lead researcher at the Kenya Aids Vaccine Initiative at the Institute of Clinical Research (KAVI-ICR) said Africa should start planning logistics and distribution of vaccines instead of being skeptical and hesitant.

"The emerging global issue right now is acceptance of the vaccines, availability and its access," Anzala told journalists during a virtual briefing on the current status of the vaccine.

He urged African governments to allocate adequate resources to secure adequate supply of COVID-19 vaccines that are likely to be approved for immunization of people against the deadly pandemic.

"We do not have to worry about the speed or safety and efficacy of vaccines, but instead governments and policymakers should start planning for necessary logistics to ensure the cold chain of the vaccines," said Anzala.

He said that the cold chain required for the distribution of the vaccine is not going to be similar to the usual child vaccines.

Anzala, one of Africa's leading virologists, reiterated the significance of prioritizing who should get the vaccine first, once it becomes available.

"It will be important to give preference to people at higher risk of getting infected and experiencing complications," said Anzala.

He said that evidence shows that for older people, there is an increased mortality rate even without pre-existing medical conditions.

"Thus, shielding the elderly, frontline workers and those with pre-existing medical conditions will save lives," said Anzala.

He urged East African nations to come together and negotiate for vaccines as a consortium so that they can get price concessions due to large quantities ordered.

The virologist pleaded with African countries to start allocating enough funds to purchase the vaccines like other countries in other continents that have already started allocating resources to buy and distribute the vaccines.

"If it all goes well, I see towards the end of the first quarter of 2021 two vaccines that are in frontline could be available, but this could be expedited if African countries start budgeting to purchase the vaccines," Anzala said.

Besides South Africa and Kenya that are participating in the Oxford University vaccine trials, Anzala said it would be appropriate to test the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to better understand their performance in an African setting.

He warned that more infections are likely to be recorded in Africa due to super spreader events, such as crowding in bars, homes, eateries, weddings and parties, as the festive season approaches.

"The continent can only slow down the second wave of infection if stricter measures are taken to ensure that people continue to wear masks, wash hands, sanitize and keep social distance as recommended by infectious disease experts and the World Health Organization," said Anzala.

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