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Africa’s scientists have had to pick testing over genome sequencing for a coronavirus vaccine


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(courtesy: Quartz Africa, 13 Apr 2020)

Africa’s scientists have had to pick testing over genome sequencing for a coronavirus vaccine

(courtesy: Quartz Africa, 13 Apr 2020)

Pools of genome sequences of SARS-CoV-2 from all over the world are currently being scrutinized by scientists for insight into the Covid-19 disease. If a vaccine is eventually discovered—based on the sequences pooled so far—Africa may end up with the ‘Rotaviruses Vaccine Problem’.

The Rotaviruses Vaccine Problem refers to the efficacy variation observed with vaccines developed for use against rotavirus infections, a leading cause of severe diarrhoea among young children worldwide. The vaccines happened to be effective in Europe and North America but less effective in Africa. The vaccines which were mainly based on rotavirus strains predominantly found in Europe and North America is believed to exhibit a lower efficacy in Africa due to the circulation of different strain in the continent.

Scientists in African countries have been working on genome sequencing for Covid-19 but have done just 90 out of the 7,679 done globally to date.

“If Africans fail to generate essential data and make such available we’ll possibly suffer the same fate as with Rotavirus vaccine.”

As early as two weeks after cases of a strange pneumonia-like sickness was reported in Wuhan, a city in China, scientists in the country did the first genome sequencing of the virus causing the sickness. Within a week, they had done five genome sequences of the virus identities as SARS-CoV-2—a new coronavirus. Since then over 7,700 genome sequences have been done as the virus which causes a highly infectious and deadly disease called Covid-19 spreads fast across the globe. These genome sequences which are being pooled into several databases are vital for tracking how the virus mutates over time as it spreads and for development of diagnostic tests and vaccines. One such pool is the GISAID’s SARS-CoV-2 genome sequence database.

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