By Tunde Asaju
On Friday, November 26, I rolled up my sleeve for the booster shot of the Covid-19 vaccine. With that action, I have completed the mandated number of shots to keep me relatively safe from the disease. First, I took the Pfizer, and now two Moderna shots. I am a lucky one, not based on the pigmentation of my skin but because of the country that I live in and for now, the kind of job that I do.
If I lived in Nigeria or anywhere else in Africa, I may not have that privilege. Most of my fellow compatriots had one of two or three vaccine options – the Astra-Zenica, the Chinese or the Russian vaccine. In July this year, Canada destroyed hundreds of thousands of vials of the Astra-Zeneca vaccine before it suspended its use locally. The United States of America, whose Centre for Disease Control is well respected across the globe took ages to license the Astra-Zeneca shot for use at home even with thousands of its citizens dying of the virus.
From the evidence gathered, the difference between Astra-Zeneca and others is that it is easier to store and use. The early shots of Moderna and Pfizer required the level of refrigeration that is not available to poor countries. It is a developmental gap that most of them have no capacity to bridge within the time needed to keep their citizens safe and keep their fragile economies moving.
The other reason is that developed countries simply went for broke to buy up every prospective vial of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine thereby shutting out developing nations from its purchase. Only last week, it was revealed that Botswana bought a vial of one of these vaccines for $29, almost triple what developed countries paid the particular manufacturer for the same vial. Ironically, millions of expired doses of vaccines have been destroyed in many developed countries. Something just does not add up here guys.
At the height of what has been dubbed the first, second and third wave of this pandemic, powerful countries of the north were pushing for the vaccination of their citizens and permanent residents. African nations, on the other hand, had citizens influenced by religious hocus-pocus and conspiracy theories in a continent where people survive mostly on prayers and miracles.
Many African countries opted for the Russian and Chinese vaccines because they were the only countries kind enough to supply them pro bono even as the west considered these vaccines unsafe and up till now unrecognized for travel or residency.
While the morbidity ration was not particularly heavy on Africa, with the exception of Southern African nations, many of the poor nations were forced to adopt the same shut-down policy of their Western allies. The truth is that these measures had a worse effect on the citizenry than the pandemic itself, forcing many to their untimely deaths. There is hardly a country in Africa that has welfare policies with a direct impact on the socio-economic life of its teeming billions. In the west, the palliatives went where it was needed while the hospitals took care of the critically ill.
African nations knew the effect of not complying hook lines and sinkers with global best practices even when they had no financial or social foundation to do so. They were forced to comply and shut down fragile economies and comatose operating systems.
The black race is the most difficult race to convince about the altruism of scientific experiments. We were the ones used as guinea pigs for every scientific and pseudo-scientific experiment over the decades. Survivors of the Tuskegee experiment are still here with us – deliberately injected with syphilis to test the efficacy of its antidote.
The progress being made today in cancer research comes from an unethical experiment on a black woman, Henrietta Larks. At the macro and micro level, who knows what other experiments have been carried out by experimental racists?
Who knows what would unravel fifty years down the line when experimental files have been de-classified. Who knows what would unravel when we get to know how HIV/AIDS, Ebola etc predominantly affects more people of colour than others.
This is why the alarmist rate at which the so-called international community imposed a blanket ban on South Africa for revealing the Omicron variant of Covid-19 smells of racism. Non-racialized experts are struggling to mask their shock and disdain at the knee-jerk reaction of the west to a variant unmasked in Africa!
Within 48 hours of the announcement, the flight bans are widening across Africa. Finally, it seems, there is a good excuse to shut down the continent. It is no longer news that some ‘experts’ are shocked that while they lost thousands of people, Africa only lost hundreds even with its dilapidated health and social infrastructure.
There is a frenetic frenzy to isolate those who have recently travelled to any part of Africa with often-expensive and impromptu quarantine rules. This plays into the narrative that sees people of colour as vectors of diseases.
With the debilitating effect of Covid on the global population and its economy, it is expedient that governments take action to prevent its spread. The big issue is that even though this is the most mutant form of the virus, there is so far no evidence showing it has a debilitating effect on anyone. Indeed, science is silent on whether or not those who have now been tested and found to be carrying the virus have fallen ill if they have taken at least two doses of the Covid vaccine. So, why the rush?
Experts are saying that it would take another two weeks to monitor the morbidity rate of the Omicron variant to know whether this is truly something to worry about. Some say this kind of reaction might force the South Africans and others in future to keep quiet if they find a disease that could be of concern to the rest of the world. It is not impossible seeing that the Delta variant was also ‘discovered’ there with a similar reaction.
There are no indications in South Africa that more people are dying of this variant to warrant the alarmist news, the pseudo-analysis being foisted on and by powerful western news portals. There is a shameful hype that plays into an equally shameful narrative.
I am not a scientist, but it could have been more expedient to warn about the threats posed by this variant on non-vaccinated individuals anywhere and the need to continue to observe the protocols known to curtail the spread of this disease. It would have been better to call for caution and wait until the first two or three weeks after the identification before resorting to bans and isolations on the African nation.
While most African nations have no capacity to vaccinate all its citizens, there is evidence that more people are willing, indeed would be compelled to take the vaccine against their will in Africa than elsewhere in the west. Only last week, Canada tabled a legislature criminalizing anti-vaccination protests in hospitals and near schools as it rolled out its youth vaccination programme. Very few, if any of such protests have taken place in any part of Africa.
Experts say that plagues like this one comes every 100 years and stays around for five years. We are just in the second or third year of this plague and we have survived this far thanks to the advancement in technology and the cooperation of good people who rolled up their sleeves in the hope that life is worth preserving even if it is just for another miserable day!
The way the world eventually treats this new development from South Africa would have strong ramifications for future campaigns to limit the spread of not only this virus, but others that would likely come after it.
*Tunde Asaju contributed this piece from Ottawa, Canada