Prof. Alan Whiteside is a South African academic, researcher and professor at the Balsillie School of International Affairs and professor emeritus at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. In this interview with BizNews founder Alec Hogg, he lets us know his thoughts on the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Professor Alan Whiteside on his background:
I am a professor at the Balsillie School of International Affairs based in Waterloo, Canada. Effectively, I’m just looking at Covid and what an impact it is having on our society – and what impact it will have in the future. I think that’s where the major effects are going to be felt with unemployment, poverty and all the rest of the sequelae of this awful virus.
My area of interest, for 30 years, was on the social, economic and other causes and consequences of the HIV/AIDS epidemic – which was and is the worst in the world in Southern Africa. It seemed quite logical to start looking at another infectious disease which had leapt from animals to mankind, because both HIV and Covid have done that.
On why South Africa decided to give the AstraZeneca vaccine away:
I think the short answer is that whoever made that decision was extremely short-sighted and stupid. There have been concerns around the Astra Zeneca vaccine in Europe – and also in the United States – or at least they have been presented to the populace through the media as concerns. The question was, did it cause bleeding in the brain? The answer is no. So effectively what we have is, sadly, the management of vaccine rollout [and] vaccine availability by press release, which is completely the wrong way to do it.
Effectively, what you had was the press in the UK – I can’t speak for South Africa – and in parts of Europe saying that the AstraZeneca could only be used for under 55’s. Then they said it could only be used for over 65’s. Then they said there’d been a few cases where people had had adverse effects after they’ve had the AstraZeneca shot, which was bleeding in the brain. In actual fact, when you dig into these stories – as a number of people do – what you find is that there were no more brain bleeds than you would expect in a normal population. But what I fear is we have the media for whom there is a fantastic story – which is the success of the vaccine rollout – looking for the bad news stories, because that’s what they see as selling in the papers.
On the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the UK:
One of the things we saw with the AstraZeneca was people saying (in the United States) that the data come out of the trials was not entirely clear. They were bits missing etc. That was 32,000 people. Well, you know what? Nearly 30 million people have had the AstraZeneca first jab in the UK. So you’d think that if there were problems, they would be showing up among those 30 million people?
So far, I have seen nothing about serious, adverse effects among the 30 million Britons who’ve received the AstraZeneca jab, which would seem to indicate it’s probably okay. That is not to say that there might not be problems. And one of the vaccine manufacturers, to their credit, pulled a batch because they discovered there was a small problem in the manufacturing process. I’m not going to say which one, but we can expect there to be the occasional problem. And if you catch it, then it isn’t a problem.
On the decision to not use the AstraZeneca vaccine in SA:
Another [decision I’ve seen on the news] is that Professor Salim Abdool Karim is no longer going to be involved with the organisation as he has been in the past. Then the question you have to ask is, did he jumped or was he pushed? There’s all sorts of things going on there. I think one of the things we don’t take into account – and I’m not saying this is the case in South Africa – is that there’s an awful lot of money to be made from vaccines.
But not from AstraZeneca at the moment because it’s the cheapest of the lot. As I said, I’m not suggesting that is the case in South Africa, but I am suggesting we need to watch globally, to see whether there is profiteering going on in provision of this lifesaving vaccine. The other issue, of course, is just ownership and standing up, saying something which might be right [or] might be wrong. But you appear as though you doing something to your populace. I think that also happens quite often in South Africa.
On the price of the AstraZeneca vaccine compared to other shots:
AstraZeneca is being delivered at about £3 a dose and the others are coming in at £14 to £29, I think. But it is cheaper than the nearest dose. And the other thing about AstraZeneca, of course, is that it doesn’t need major refrigeration, which is the case with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.