Since January 14, 2021, a video has been trending on various social media platforms across Africa where the former Vice President of Zambia, Nevers Mumba, is noted providing advice to the governments of Zambia and Africa on COVID-19 vaccines.
In the said video, about 3. 28 mins in duration, Nevers Mumba cautioned the government of Zambia to not accept any vaccine until “strenuous validation and verification is done”.
Mr. Mumba also suggested that there are vaccines in circulation in Africa with labels indicating they be not distributed in United States and European Union countries.
“We may be poor but we are not stupid. We can read when they write on the vaccine that this is not for distribution in the United States and this cannot be used in the European Union. This vaccine cannot be used in Europe. They are even telling you that this is not for us because they’ve got other substandard stuff which they make for us,” Nevers Mumba said.
The viral video specifically identified ‘Remdesivir Covifor’ as one of such of the vaccines with the package of the drug boldly inscribed— “Not for distribution in US, Canada and EU”.
Fact-check Ghana has verified the claim about the circulation of specific Vaccines in Africa which, according Mumba, are not supposed to distributed in the US, Canada and EU countries and the assertion that Remdesivir Covifor is a COVID-19 vaccine. The team concludes both claims are completely false.
No COVID-19 Vaccine Administration for Africans Yet, Except 25 Guineans
Contrary to Nevers Mumba’s suggestion of COVID-19 vaccines being circulated in Africa, the continent is yet to have considerable doses of some of the approved western vaccines administered to its residents, a situation the World Health Organisation (WHO) has deplored.
“Vaccine hoarding will only prolong the ordeal and delay Africa’s recovery. It is deeply unjust that the most vulnerable Africans are forced to wait for vaccines while lower-risk groups in rich countries are made safe,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
Even though a number of the vaccines have been approved and rolled out for use, according to The People’s Vaccine Alliance made up of a coalition of organisations including Amnesty International, Frontline AIDS, Global Justice Now and Oxfam, “rich nations representing just 14% of the world’s population have bought up 53% of all the most promising vaccines so far.”
None of the Western approved COVID-19 vaccines had been administered in Africa as at January 25, 2021. In exception, 25 Guineans have been inoculated with the Russian COVID-19 vaccine, Sputnik V, after the government procured a handful to be administered on experimental basis in late December, 2020.
“We requested a small quantity of the vaccine, 55 doses precisely. This is the beginning of an order,” Dr. Sakoba Keita, the director-general of the National Health Security Agency of Guinea said. “Yesterday we vaccinated in this pilot phase 25 senior officials of the state. There are 30 doses left and we will continue with the vaccination.”
With the exception of the 25, there’s no further administration of the vaccine in the West Africa country. Nonetheless, according to Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, about 30 million doses of the vaccines are expected to arrive in Africa by March 2021 as a start to the 600 million doses WHO expects to be administered on the continent by end of the year.
Remdesivir Covifor is not a Vaccine
Remdesivir (sometimes sold under the brand name Veklury) is an anti-viral drug developed by the American biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences. The drug which was originally developed in 2009 to treat hepatitis C and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) was later repurposed and studied as a potential treatment for Ebola virus disease and Marburg virus infections.
In 2020, the drug proved effective in stopping the replication of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. It was therefore approved and authorised for emergency use in October 2020 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of COVID-19. It has as well been authorised in Europe for the “treatment of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in adults and adolescents (aged 12 years and older with body weight at least 40 kg) with pneumonia requiring supplemental oxygen”.
It must be noted that the drug was only approved for usage in the event that one has contracted and was sick from COVID-19 but not as a prevention medication or vaccine against the virus.
Covifor is a remdesivir generic (versions of the remdesivir drug containing same chemical substance but with different patents) produced by the Indian pharmaceutical company Hetero Labs. Limited after it signed an agreement with the originator company, Gilead Sciences.
The agreement allows Hetero Labs. Limited to produce the drug at a lower production cost (compared with the cost of the originator company) and implicitly at a cheaper price.
However, according to the agreement the drug must only be sold mostly in low-income and lower-middle income countries. This is to allow citizens in these countries to be able afford the drug while preventing it from competing with market of the originator company, Gilead Sciences, where the drug is sold at a relatively higher price. This is the reason Covifor drug and other remdesivir generic drug like Cipremi are made to be used only in many African countries and not for distribution in US, Canada and EU.