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Ministry allays fear over vaccine trials

Health & Science
 Health Chief Administrative Secretary, Dr Mercy Mwangangi during yesterday's Covid-19 briefing in Nairobi. [David Njaaga, Standard]

The government is closely monitoring the progress of a Covid-19 vaccine, even as the number of cases in the country approach the 5,000 mark.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Health reported 155 new cases from 4,171 samples,raising the number to 4,952.

Health Chief Administrative Secretary Mercy Mwangangi, who gave the update yesterday, assured Kenyans of their safety in the ongoing global vaccine trials even as experts warned against rushing the process.

Kenya is part of the World Health Organisation (WHO) solidarity trial of a Covid-19 vaccine.

By June 18, WHO was monitoring 141 vaccines with 13 being between stage one and three of clinical trials, while the rest are on pre-clinical trials stage.

Dr Mwangangi said any vaccine would require stringent processing mechanism before it reaches the market and that Kenya was working with other global organisations in the search for one. “We continue to ensure whatever will be utilised is safe,” she said.

The assurance comes when experts have raised concern about the speed at which scientists are seeking to have a Covid-19 vaccine.

Dr Britt Trogen from the New York Langone Medical Centre and Bellevue Hospital in New York told The New York Times in its June 22, 2020 issue the rush for a vaccine could backfire, and increase skepticism on the effectiveness of vaccines.

“Everyone wants the vaccine to be the silver bullet that gets us out of this crisis, but intense political and public pressure to release a vaccine before the science is ready could have devastating negative consequences,” said Trogen, citing the polio trials in the 1950s.

Quality control errors

During the polio vaccine trials, quality control errors by the manufacturer and lack of clear guidelines saw 60 vaccine recipients and their 89 contacts contract polio.

Dr William Haseltine, from Access Health International, said while pre-clinical trials to evaluate the potential safety and efficacy of vaccine on thousands of patients, it was still unclear whether that number would be large enough and the trial last long enough to evaluate the safety for a drug.

Haseltine, in an article published by Scientific American journal on June 22, noted that the fact that little is known about the current generation of Covid-19 vaccines raised serious questions regarding their ability to protect people from infection.

“We know all the candidates tested to date in non-human primates failed to protect any of the monkeys from infection of the nasal passages, the primary route of human infection. Failure to protect entirely from infection fits with all we know about attempts to protect monkeys from two other deadly coronaviruses, those that cause SARS and MERS,” he said.

Kenya is no stranger to cases of vaccines gone wrong.

A vaccination campaign in 2015 in Busia County left 28 children crippled. The county was ordered by the courts to pay the children Sh40 million in compensation.

Health Director General Patrick Amoth said it would take between 18 and 24 months before a Covid-19 vaccine could be ready.

"In the meantime, let us be the vaccine by washing our hands, keeping social distance and avoiding gatherings," said Amoth.

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