Community Orgs Unite in Ethiopia on COVID Vax

In Ethiopia, Global Featured by Julie Pascault

AHF Ethiopia Country Program Manager Dr. Mengistu GebreMichael speaks at the press conference.

Much of the COVID-19 pandemic news has shifted, and for good reason, to several pharma companies and their expedited processes to create a new vaccine. AHF Ethiopia recently collaborated with several partners and held a press conference to address key issues on the progress of rushed vaccine development, along with the various roles community service organizations (CSOs) play during the crisis.

The event drew more than two dozen media members from print, digital, radio and television outlets. Co-organizers for the press conference were the Ethiopian Public Health Association (EPHA), the Consortium of Reproductive Health Associations (CORHA) and the Pro Development Network (PDN).

“It was critical to hold this press conference with our partners in Africa right now—as there are many unknowns with the hurried rollout of a COVID-19 vaccine,” said Dr. Mengistu GebreMichael, AHF Ethiopia Country Program Manager. “Pharmaceutical companies need to show a full commitment to disclose everything that the public should know about vaccine development. After all, it’s the public who will be subjected to the trials.”

Dr. GebreMichael added that one example of a lack of transparency was with the AstraZeneca trial, a frontrunner in COVID vaccine development. The trial was temporarily halted, but the company didn’t explain the exact reason. It was later identified that one of the participants experienced an unanticipated serious side effect. This is why transparency is so critical—without it, many people could become skeptical about the safety of vaccines being developed.

Abebe Kebede, Executive Director of CHORA – a consortium of 77 CSOs – added that community organizations are playing enhanced roles towards health and assisting vulnerable populations since the emergence of COVID-19 in the country. And even though there is no approved vaccine yet, advocates must ensure governments and donors are held accountable so that vaccines, when available, reach the most marginalized communities.

PDN Executive Director Ahmed Hussen also added that the vaccine development process should be free from any economic, political or business competition and that accurate information surrounding vaccines is pivotal to gaining community support.

There are currently 198 COVID-19 vaccines in various phases of development, with nine frontrunners in large-scale, phase III trials. In phase III, the vaccine is given to thousands of people to confirm its safety – including rare side effects – and effectiveness. These trials also involve a control group which is given a placebo.

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