By Sharon Atieno

With the emergence of different COVID-19 vaccine candidates and countries racing to procure some for their populations; African countries have been urged to form strong regional blocs to avoid missing out.

Speaking during a press briefing, Prof. Omu Anzala, professor of virology and immunology and lead researcher at the Kenya Aids Vaccine Initiative (KAVI) at the Institute of Clinical Research, University of Nairobi said that the regional blocs would help with resource mobilization for purchasing the vaccine once confirmed.

He said, “once you have a larger population, it is easier for the cost to be lowered than if countries purchase individually.”

Anzala noted that though international donors like the Global Fund would help in purchasing the vaccines at affordable prices, “we must learn to resolve our own issues.”

He also indicated that the African Union is interested in negotiating to fund access to vaccines without necessarily depending on the donor community.

If COVID-19 ends up being endemic, he cautioned, it will need continuous vaccination. We need to think short term but in the long haul, Anzala added.

Since the emergence of coronaviruses, four have become endemic including MERS-CoV in the Middle East .

Anzala called for the participation of African countries in vaccine development and research, noting that very few had invested in this area.

Only Kenya and South Africa have taken part in the Oxford vaccine trials, he noted, adding that with the virus behaving differently in different populations, there is need to “test how the vaccine works in our own setting.”

Anzala said it would also be appropriate to test the other two vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna to better understand their performance in the African setting.

So far, there are over 150 vaccines in development, seven have potential to advance while three are already taking the lead.