President Museveni was duped and given false hopes on the capacity and capabilities of Ugandan scientists to produce Covid-19 vaccines, former minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Dr Elioda Tumwesigye has said.
Tumwesigye says that the inadequate information given to the president caused unnecessary anxiety among Ugandans that the country would have a vaccine ready within a short time. The former minister was on Wednesday appearing before parliament’s select committee that is inquiring into the utilization of funds meant to facilitate the Covid-19 vaccine development.
The probe sanctioned by the deputy speaker, Anita Among followed concerns raised by Ntungamo Municipality MP, Yona Musinguzi who said that in 2020, a select group of scientists convinced Museveni that they could produce a vaccine for Covid-19 and were funded under the Presidential Scientific Initiative on Epidemics (PRESIDE) and yet they lacked the capacity to develop the vaccine.
The scientists are led by the current minister for Science, Technology and Innovation, Dr Monica Musenero and over Shs 31 billion has been allocated to their research work. The select committee was tasked to establish the progress in the development of a locally manufactured Covid-19 vaccine, establish the amount of money released for the research, and others.
The other terms of reference are establishing the innovation and Covid-19 vaccine development, establishing how effective such funds have been utilized, and establishing challenges faced in the development of Covid-19 vaccines and medicines. PRESIDE is a brainchild of President Museveni led by Dr Musenero, who was a presidential advisor on epidemics at the time it was unveiled.
According to Tumwesigye, Uganda is still far away in regard to developing a vaccine since there is a need to build capacity.
“By the way, we’re still far away at least in manufacturing vaccines, the country needs to build capacity. Taking too long wouldn’t be unexpected, and what so far is being put in place is good…because the next time we get a new disease, we know how to handle it. Now our people know, the procedure, we need to get technology for some of this work,” he said.
He was responding to different questions posed by legislators sitting on the select committee regarding the capability of PRESIDE to produce a Covid-19 vaccine. Tumwesigye was also invited by MPs to explain what the role of the ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation was in the financing of PRESIDE activities.
“I think what was not fair was giving inadequate information to our head of state and then he would go to the press and address the nation and promise that maybe in the next few months, next month or weeks we shall have this. And sometimes you would see his dissatisfaction sometimes when he would say; ‘these people told me that there were no patients, good enough corona has helped us now patients are there’…and then saying, ‘we’re going to have the vaccine by the end of this year.’ I would have wanted to know the motives of the scientists who knew how long it would take to develop something but would give maybe inadequate information that would then be transmitted to the public,” Tumwesigye said.
In his previous addresses to the nation about the Covid-19 pandemic, Museveni gave assurances to the public about Uganda’s advanced progress in the production of a vaccine. In November 2021, the president said that Uganda’s vaccine would be named Nalubale Dawa DN.
In response to Nwoya County MP, Tony Awany’s comment that it had taken two years without PRESIDE making a breakthrough on a vaccine, the former minister suggested that Uganda instead invites international companies to produce vaccines from the country.
He said that other African countries are making progress by supporting local scientists to work with international companies to produce vaccines citing South Africa that is already producing Johnson & Johnson Vaccine and Modena.
“Much as we want to develop our own vaccine which should be ideal for our own security as Africa and Uganda but it would take so long to reach that level. So what other countries do is to work with those other companies that are already doing the vaccine and you attract them to your own country, you do what they call fill and finish – bring uncompleted solutions in bulk then now you put them in vials. That is what people are pushing like now I think South Africa, Rwanda and Senegal. As we speak, South Africa is now producing Moderna vaccine, they are also producing Johnson & JohnsJohnsonon,” he said.