About forty volunteers, mostly front-line health workers, are participating in COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials in Kenya.
The trial phase of the vaccine, developed by the University of Oxford in partnership with the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, is being conducted by the KEMRI-Welcome Trust Research program based in Kilifi.
KEMRI's Dr. Samuel Sang said researchers are trying to determine if the vaccine, known as ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, is safe for Kenyans.
“Vaccines which have been found to work and are safe in one population [may not] work across populations," Sang said. Therefore, he said, there's a need to to assess whether the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 is safe and works among the Kenyan volunteers.
Sang said the vaccine was being tested for both safety and impact.
“Our expectation is to assess whether ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 is safe, effective and elicits a good immune response in adults above the age of 18 years,” he said.
According to the World Health Organization, there are about 100 COVID-19 vaccines currently under the human trial phase of development.
But some analysts say that while vaccine research and development are advancing, the equitable distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine remains a question.
A recent study by Duke University's Global Health Innovation Center argues that high-income countries will have an undue advantage in accessing the vaccines once they've been developed.
Andrea Taylor, assistant director for programs at the Duke center, said, "Our results need to be understood in the context of limited manufacturing capacity. High- and middle-income countries have already reserved 3.8 billion doses, with options for another 5 billion, before any vaccines are even on the market. So when vaccine candidates do receive approvals, the doses that can be manufactured in the first year or two may already be reserved for high-income countries.”
But, Taylor said, that outcome is not set in stone.
“Leadership from lower-income countries is changing the conversation," she said. "For example, the African Union and the Africa CDC are coordinating an Africa-wide approach to pool financing for vaccine procurement and to increase financing within Africa. We’re seeing similar initiatives emerge in Latin America as well. These regional partnerships are really exciting and could strengthen lower-income countries’ leverage and their position on the global market.”
Kenya’s Health Ministry said an additional 360 volunteers would be added to the human trial phase once the efficacy and safety of the vaccine had been established over the next year in the first batch of volunteers.