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Organizers have begun instituting anti-vaccine demonstrations after medical researchers were given the green light to begin working on a COVID-19 vaccine in South Africa.

Signs that read “We are not guinea pigs,” and “Why not test Bill Gates vaccine on whites,” condemned the research efforts, as a crowd of about 50 people gathered at University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg earlier this week, Reuters reports.

The trials are backed by the Department of Health and the South Africa Medical Research Council, and is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is a main source of the condemnation.

If efforts are successful, the vaccine would be available by October of next year. Researchers hope the vaccine will aid in shortening the amount of time it takes to reach herd immunity. South Africa has the highest number of coronavirus infections, with over 150,000 cases and over 2,600 deaths.

“We are not going to follow a vaccine because we as healers believe that our traditional medicine is not given a chance,” Sellwane Mokatsi, a protester said in an interview with Reuters.

Last Wednesday, the University of Witwatersrand launched the continents pilot program in collaboration with Oxford University, making it South Africa’s first venture into finding a vaccine. The trial, based on the vaccine candidate named ChAdOx1 nCOV-19, will consist of 2,000 volunteers, 50 who have HIV, and will take place over the course of a year to see how well participants react. The vaccine candidate was developed by researchers at Oxford University.

The trials follows the efforts of countries like Brazil and the United States, which are moving towards launching trial efforts of their own.

At the height of the coronavirus, two French doctors were blasted after suggesting that COVID-19 trials should begin in Africa.

“Should we not do this study in Africa where there are no masks, no treatment or intensive care, a little bit like it’s been done for certain AIDS studies, where among prostitutes, we try things because we know that they are highly exposed and don’t protect themselves?” said Dr. Jean-Paul Mira, head of ICU services at the Cochin Hospital in Paris.

“You are right,” replied Camille Locht, the research director for France’s National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm).

As we know, there is a history of distrust between medical trials and Black communities due to the mistreatment of underserved populations and the manipulation of participants who were historically forced to participate in efforts which spurred death, sterility, embarrassment and condemnation. From the basis of modern day gynecology, to the Tuskegee Trials, to the distreatment of Henrietta Lacks, medicine has not always served as a safe space for Black communities.


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