First vaccinations begin in Africa for COVID-19 trial

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Africa’s first participation in a COVID-19 vaccine trial started on Wednesday as nervous volunteers received injections, while officials said the continent of 1.3 billion people cannot be left behind.

The large-scale trial of the vaccine developed at the University of Oxford in Britain is being conducted in South Africa, Britain and Brazil. South Africa has nearly one-third of Africa’s confirmed cases with more than 106,000, including more than 2,100 deaths. The country late Tuesday reported its biggest one-day death toll of 111.

“I feel a little bit scared but I want to know what is going on with this vaccine so that I can tell my friends and others what is going on with the study,” one of the vaccine trial volunteers, Junior Mhlongo, said in Johannesburg.

The African continent now has nearly 325,000 cases as countries loosen restrictions under economic pressure from citizens who say they have to feed their families. Shortages of testing materials and medical supplies remain a problem as Africa could become the world’s next hot spot.

The pandemic was delayed in Africa “but is picking up speed very quickly”, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Chief John Nkengasong said on Wednesday, with a steep increase in the number of cases and deaths.

“Unless we act now, Africa is at risk of being left behind on the global vaccine,” he warned a continental discussion and urged that local manufacturing and scientific expertise play a key role.