Africa, race and the most expensive vaccine yet: stakes of hepatitis B immunisation research in Senegal and the Gambia – Noémi Tousignant (University College London)

November 12, 2020 @ 3:30 pm – 5:00 pm
Helen Curry

Among the earliest and most ambitious experiments of hepatitis B vaccine happened in West Africa from the mid 1970s to the mid 1980s. Yet both plasma and recombinant vaccines for this virus, which hit the market as the most expensive vaccines yet, were not widely provided in Africa until the 2000s. In this paper, I examine relations and disjunctions between the politics of experimentation and those of vaccine distribution across spaces (and times) of economic, epidemiological and racialised difference. My focus is on the planning of a research programme partially implemented in Senegal from the late 1970s, and another launched in 1986 as the Gambia Hepatitis Intervention Study. I show how the logics underpinning this research – to use vaccination as an experimental device for generating aetiological evidence of viral cancer causation – made it acceptable to test a technology that was expected to remain ‘too expensive for Africa’ in the foreseeable future, and discuss how not just patterns of accessibility but their modes of rendering acceptable were racialised.

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