By Goodluck Musinguzi
Who is reporting on the covid19 pandemic in Uganda, do you trust that journalist? Do you wait for foreign media to write about your country? When the Covid19 pandemic emerged on the scene a lot of misinformation was flying over and it has become worse with the vaccinations.
Africa Science Media Center collaborated with Africa Health Solutions Journalism Initiative and Health Journalist Network in Uganda to identify journalists who have been writing about Covid19 as an emerging scientific issue.
Ester Nakkazi, the Founder of HEJNU and Freelance science & technology journalist, Ugandan ScieGirl blogger, and media trainer said Uganda Journalists must write about emerging scientific issues or else helicopter(foreign) journalists will come to represent or misrepresent the country in a few days they stay.
“We are here in Uganda the pandemic came, … people thought the world was coming to an end…, people were dying but communities came up with solutions that provided hope. Solutions stories give people hope and the future. Those who do foreign press there is no good story coming from Africa. It’s upon us to show there are good things happening in Uganda- Africa despite the limitations. It is the media to show it not the negative stories all the time”, Nakkazi said.
Africa Science Media Center was established by ScienceAfrica and Partners in September 2020 in Nairobi, Kenya, through a small grant from Cornell Alliance for Science principally to work with journalists and scientists on the continent to improve the credibility of media reporting of emerging scientific issues, such as the Coronavirus pandemic.
The first Science Media Centre (SMC) was established in the UK in 2002 after a frenzied and inaccurate media reporting on Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccinations and autism, GM crops, and growing public mistrust of science.
As a result, other new Science Media Centers have been established in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Germany, USA and Malaysia.
Dr. Misaki Wayengera a Medical Doctor with Graduate Training in Immunology, Clinical Microbiology, and Vaccinology addressed Journalists from across Africa via zoom.
He is a fellow of the Human Genetics and Genomics Programme run by the US National Human Genome Research Institute-NHGRI. He has a Ph.D. in Pathogen OMICS, and EDCTP-Post-Doc Fellowship in Filovirology (NICD-Johannesburg, SA). He is currently in charge of the unit of genetics and genomics-UGG at the Mulago Supra-National Reference Hospital in Kampala.
What: Mixing and Matching vaccines: What do we know?
He discussed the ongoing Covid19 vaccination in Uganda that is providing a solution to the pandemic that has caused the death of more than 3000 Ugandans.
“All these vaccines have undergone the necessary regulatory procedures and were permitted for use by the World Health Organisation,” he said.
Dr. Wayengera stressed that it is not important for people to start making choices between vaccines since all of them are capable of offering protection against Covid-19 and preventing severe cases of hospitalization among those fully vaccinated.
He however backed a proposed study on mixing and matching Covid-19 vaccines saying that the outcome would help Uganda to optimize vaccine usage and address constraints brought by lack of control over access to vaccines.
“We have received vaccines from so many players. With these vaccines with us, what guarantee do we have for sustainable use? We don’t have enough data on mixing vaccines,” he said.
The study, he suggested, would also focus on whether it is sufficient to half the dosage given to the people so as to immunize more people.
He added that people could also mix vaccines because of the issues of availability or lack of the vaccine they took during the first jab.
Dr. Wayengera was addressing journalists attending a solutions journalism training for reporting Covid-19 at Fareway hotel in Kampala who were joined by other journalists from up-country, Kenya, and Rwanda via a video link.
The Health Journalism Network in Uganda and Africa Health Solutions Journalism Initiative organized the two-day training.
Dr. Wayengera said the only available data is on mixing AstraZeneca with Pfizer where it is found to be more effective to use AstraZeneca as the first dose and Pfizer as the second dose to trigger a higher level of immunity to Covid-19.
The Ministry of Health’s standing policy on Covid-19 vaccination does not allow mixing and matching of vaccines due to a lack of supporting data.
Dr. Wayengera also contended that even the AstraZeneca and Pfizer study was done in the western countries and the results simply fed to Africa and the rest of the world.
He recommended the local study to cover all the vaccines being used in Uganda or that are expected to be acquired for the inoculation program- Moderna, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Sinovac and Johnson and Johnson, and eventually Sinopharm.
He said the protocol for the study has already been developed but is lacking funds to facilitate the researchers.
Another constrain pointed out by Dr. Wayengera was the difficulty in getting the manufacturing pharmaceutical companies to get involved in the study.
He also addressed concerns on the usage of herbal remedies such as Covidex and Vidicine for Covid -19 treatment when somebody contracts the infection after being vaccinated.
Dr. Wayengera said the position of the health experts is that most many of the medicines used for treating people are plant-based and the approved Ugandan herbal medicines have active ingredients for managing viral infections.
He however said a study will be undertaken to further analyze the safety profile and contraindication of herbal medicines and it would be unfair to preempt the clinical trials before they are conducted.