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South African anti-vaccine protesters: 'We are not guinea pigs'

Anti-vaccine protesters took to the streets in Johannesburg, South Africa, yesterday to voice their concern over Africa’s first human trials for a potential coronavirus vaccine.

Last Wednesday, the University of the Witwatersrand in partnership with Oxford University and an Italian laboratory based in Rome, rolled out South Africa’s first clinical trial, which will consist of 2,000 volunteers.

The involvement of South Africa in vaccine trials is intended to enable the continent to have access to an affordable vaccine and not be left at the back of the queue.

However, about 50 people held protests at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, saying they did not want Africans to be used as guinea pigs, showing concerns and distress among some on the continent over testing drugs on people who do not understand the risks.

Protesters attend a demonstration against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine testing on Africans, at Wits University in Johannesburg, South Africa. Image credit REUTERS, Siphiwe Sibeko

“I’m not happy at all! I mean this feels like the 1980s all over again when the AIDS pandemic just broke out in South Africa,” said 29-year-old graphic designer Tebogo Legoale.

Some of the placards carried by demonstrators outside the university read: “We are not guinea pigs.”

Twenty-nine-year-old community activist Walter Mashilo explained the vaccine should be tested first on members of parliament and ministers’ children, not on poor people.

“We are clear, comrades, we don’t want this vaccine (trial),” he shouted, addressing the crowd.

A health worker carries out a door-to-door testing near Durban in South Africa. image credit Reuters

For now, South Africa has the highest rate of COVID-19 infections in the continent, with confirmed cases at over 150,000 and more than 2,600 confirmed victims.

Traditional healers are also fighting for their medicine to be used against the virus instead of a vaccine.

“We are not going to follow a vaccine because we as healers believe that our traditional medicine is not given a chance,” said Sellwane Mokatsi, 32-year-old compliance officer, who is also part of the traditional healers’ organisation.


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