A bitter pill to swallow!

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WHEN a colleague asked me the other day if I was willing to get a Covid-19 jab I didn’t hesitate to say “yes”. This was after learning that Zimbabwe was set to receive its first batch of Covid-19 vaccines from China.
Who wouldn’t want a jab knowing that a vaccine helps a person build up immunity to an infectious disease? More so when we’re aware that Covid-19 can have serious, if not life-threatening complications. And should we get infected, we can spread the disease to all those around us.

To stress my willingness for a jab, not really expecting an answer as such, I posed a rhetorical question: “Wouldn’t you?” Well, you can imagine my surprise when he responded by shouting that he wouldn’t.

“Me, never! You see these industrial nations are only after money. This is why they’re producing vaccine after vaccine. Most of these vaccines are not effective and we don’t have the capacity to test their efficacy. In fact they want to use Africans as guinea pigs. They’ve been doing this to us for a long time. Look here, Africa is their dumping ground…” he went on and on in what I’d like to call a victim’s narrative.

Of course, I understood his fear to roll up his sleeve for inoculation — with all the negative stories that we’ve heard before. Sordid reports of blacks being used as guinea pigs have been told over and over again — reports of developed countries using the Third World as a dumping ground are very common.

“When industrial nations are increasingly selling us sub-standard goods and dumping their unwanted waste materials here what can stop them from doing the same with their vaccines?” he asked.

According to a research by WHO, an estimated 1 in 10 medical products circulating in low- and middle-income countries is either substandard or falsified. This means that people are taking medicines that fail to treat or prevent disease … substandard or falsified medical products can cause serious illness or even death.

“Substandard and falsified medicines particularly affect the most vulnerable communities,” says Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “Imagine a mother who gives up food or other basic needs to pay for her child’s treatment, unaware that the medicines are substandard or falsified, and then that treatment causes her child
to die…”

And Inger Andersen, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, points out the dangers of hazardous waste being dumped in Africa by industrial nations in the following passage.

Residents of Abidjan, the Ivorian capital, knew something was wrong when they started to smell a strong odour. Unbeknown to them, a shipping firm had just dumped more than 500 tonnes of toxic waste at locations around the city. Within hours, people near the sites found it difficult to breathe. Others developed skin irritations. In the weeks that followed, more than 100 000 people sought medical assistance. At least 15 people died.

These two examples are enough to trigger a ‘victim narrative’ in the likes of my colleague. To make matters worse, the manufacturers of a vaccine co-developed by Bharat Biotech and the Indian Council for Medical Research, Covaxin, have been accused by some trial participants of having sidestepped procedures and not making adverse events public, according to media reports.

And South Africa added to the concerns after it put on temporary hold the rollout of AstraZeneca vaccines which were scheduled to be dispensed this month after data showed that the vaccines gave minimal protection against mild-to-moderate infection caused by the country’s dominant coronavirus variant.

Instead, SA will now offer vaccines developed by Johnson & Johnson, as well as Pfizer, while experts look further into the AstraZeneca shots. Health experts recently said that it would be risky to acquire vaccines without fully establishing the type of coronavirus variants that were prevalent in the country — to determine suitable jabs.

“It is important to realise the fact that when vaccines are manufactured, they are targeting the variant that was first discovered when the pandemic broke out. They are meant for people’s bodies to resist that variant. So, what this means is that the more a virus changes its characteristics, the less efficient the vaccine can become…” the president of the Zimbabwe Nurses Association, Enock Dongo, told the Daily News.

So warnings by health experts that millions of Zimbabweans could be at risk if authorities acquire coronavirus vaccines without establishing their efficacy against regional variants of the disease should be taken seriously.

However, our ‘victim narrative’ is unfortunate. It suggests that we’re at the mercy of other nations — we’re unable to test the safety of their doses and we can’t produce our own vaccines. A bitter pill to swallow!

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