A volunteer receives an injection from a medical worker during the country's first human clinical trial for a potential vaccine against the COVID-19, at Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, South Africa, on June 24, 2020. (Photo: Agencies)
The African Union Commission has launched a consortium to oversee COVID-19 vaccine trials across the continent.
The consortium is aimed at securing more than 10 late-stage vaccine clinical trials as early as possible on the continent by bringing together global vaccine developers and funders, as well as African organizations facilitating clinical trials.
According to the AU Commission, the goal is to ensure sufficient data is generated on the safety and efficacy of the most promising vaccine candidates for the African population, so they can be confidently rolled out in the continent once vaccines are approved.
The consortium will focus on dismantling critical barriers to clinical trials by establishing partnerships with leading vaccine developers to host select late-stage trial sites in Africa.
This is in addition to identifying countries and regions where opportunities to conduct trials are most promising due to availability of strong local trial sponsors, good clinical practice investigators, access to granular epidemiologic data and support from regulatory bodies.
It will also focus on setting up an independent review board to provide guidance, assistance and oversight to clinical trials in areas like regulation, ethics and safety.
Another focus will be engaging with African and global media and key opinion leaders on the continent to increase public awareness of the need and importance of hosting well-regulated clinical trials in Africa.
This is in addition to providing objective, fact-based scientific guidance for interpreting the results of clinical trial data, and engaging global donors interested in investing in scaling up vaccine distribution in Africa to raise sufficient funds to support the trials.
Moustafa Mijiyawa, chair of the governing board of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Togo minister of health, said the African initiative to develop a vaccine against the new coronavirus is welcome and encouraging.
"Through this initiative, Africa will be at the forefront as the world seeks to overcome the coronavirus pandemic," he said.
The consortium is an outcome of the virtual conference on Africa's Leadership Role in COVID-19 Vaccine Development and Access held on June 24 and 25.
The initiative is being implemented as part of the Africa Joint Continental Strategy for coronavirus endorsed by the African Ministers of Health on Feb 22 and approved by the Bureau of the Assembly of African Union Heads of State and Government on March 26.
Dr. John Nkengasong, the director of Africa CDC, said the consortium will also be a platform that will engage other discussions being led by GAVI, the vaccine alliance, to negotiate Africa's position on vaccine access and development.
"I want to assure the community that the Africa CDC through the consortium will ensure vaccine trials in Africa are done in the most safe and appropriate manner using established methods," he said.
Nkengasong said Africa CDC will embark on a multi-stakeholder partnership drive to advance the consortium and other subsidiary initiatives, ensuring broad endorsement and support across Africa, by institutions and the African people.
"Africa must play an active role in securing an effective vaccine against COVID-19. This is about our future and our development," he said.
Nkengasong said there is a lot of misinformation surrounding the ongoing vaccine trial across the globe and called on the media to publish the right information on vaccine trials.
"Vaccines are one of the most popular tools that over the history of infectious diseases has proved effective against pandemics. It's the only weapon that will allow our lives to return to normal," he said.
Moussa Faki Mahamat, the chairperson of the AU Commission, said it's critically important for academics, researchers and the private sector to work together and use all available platforms for the development of coronavirus vaccine, which will enable Africa to regain momentum for achieving the goals of the continental integration agenda.
Amira Elfadil Mohammed, commissioner for social affairs at the AU Commission, said there is an urgent need for global solidarity, cooperation and appropriate regulation to ensure equitable access to a potential coronavirus vaccine.