Paris intensive care doctor Jean-Paul Mira apologized Friday for suggesting the testing in Africa of a “repurposed” tuberculosis vaccine as a COVID-19 beater during an expert chat with a colleague on television.
“Africa isn’t a testing lab,” replied retired Ivory Coast football star Didier Drogba, and a Moroccan lawyers’ collective had said it would sue Mira for racial defamation.
French group SOS Racisme said Africans aren’t guinea pigs and France’s CSA broadcast ethics watchdog said it had received a complaint.
Paris’ clinic network, including Mira as head of intensive care at its Cochin hospital, on Friday quoted him as saying: “I want to present all my apologies to those who were hurt, shocked and felt insulted by the remarks I clumsily expressed.”
On Wednesday, in a broadcast on the channel LCI, Mira discussed the rush to find anti-coronavirus vaccines with Camille Locht, research head at France’s National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM), based in Lille.
Their focus was BCG, a vaccine against tuberculosis used for decades to help shield health workers and reputed to reduce suffering from respiratory illnesses among children as well as mitigating asthma and autoimmune diseases.
Mira posed the question: “… shouldn’t we be doing this study in Africa, where there are no masks, no treatment, no intensive care, rather as was done with certain studies on AIDS, where things are tested on prostitutes because it’s known that they are highly exposed (to HIV)?”
Locht replied: “You’re right, we are thinking in parallel by the way about a study in Africa with the same kind of approach, (but) it doesn’t prevent us from being able to think about a study in Europe and Australia at the same time.”
She was referring to a BCG vaccine trial in Australia among some 4,000 health workers.
Spanish, French, German and Dutch research entities, including INSERM, are also preparing trials using genetically-modified vaccines.
Radboud University in the Netherlands said the BCG vaccine did not directly protect against the coronavirus but could boost immune systems among patients and health workers and ease infections by the new Sars-CoV-2 virus.
At an apartment building in Hillbrow, an inner city suburb of Johannesburg, residents looked on as police on the streets tried to enforce the nationwide lockdown
In front of a supermarket in Yeoville, Johannesburg, social distancing measures still have room for improvement. Since March 27, strict measures have been implemented to contain the spread of the coronavirus in South Africa.
In a shopping center close to Pretoria, chairs are spaced far apart to ensure that customers can maintain a safe distance from one another while they wait. Only food and other essentials can be bought and sold countrywide.
The government has put a stop to public gatherings of all kinds in South Africa — and banned the sale of alcohol and cigarettes. But not everyone got the message: Eight men ended up at the police station in Johannesburg over game of cards.
The South African National Defence Force was sent to patrol the country’s streets. Soldiers will be given police powers during the lockdown, President Ramaphosa said.
Reports suggest that police and security forces have used tear gas and rubber bullets on those who defy the lockdown. Defense Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has condemned the violence and warned of consequences.
A homeless woman was seen being escorted by the police and taken to a meeting point in central Johannesburg. The government had announced that safe accommodation would be provided to all homeless people during the lockdown.
The train depot in downtown Johannesburg is full as rail travel has been canceled for the duration of the lockdown. Taxis and buses are still allowed to operate under certain conditions and to transport essential services staff.
The COVID-19 lockdown in South Africa is expected to continue until at least April 17. The Heatlh Ministry has put the number of confirmed cases at 1,353 so far. However, mass testing will be carried out in the coming days, according to President Ramaphosa.
ipj/dr (AFP, Reuters)