Member’s Statement: Vaccines: Too little, too late

Issued by Jane Cowley, MPL
Shadow MEC for Health

On Monday evening, the President of South Africa proudly announced that the first batch of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, acquired from India to aid us in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, had arrived in the country.

While this is certainly good news, particularly for our health care workers who continue to work under extreme pressure and will be first to receive the vaccine, unfortunately, it remains far too little, far too late.

Last year in June, while governments globally were actively participating in Covid-19 research and working tirelessly to produce an effective vaccine against the virus, our government was approached by Pfizer to discuss the uptake of their vaccines. Pfizer was ignored by our government for more than two months.

In August last year, Johnson and Johnson reached out to our government, but they too were ignored.

Only on the 14th of September last year, more than six months after our country had been ravaged by the virus, did the government set up their first Ministerial Advisory Committee on vaccines.

On the 9th of October, our government missed the first payment deadline to the COVAX facility to secure a vaccine for our country. On the 15th of December, they missed the second payment deadline.

On the 7th of January this year, Minister Mkhize announced that government had secured 1 million doses of vaccine, but at that point had no distribution plan. By the 15th of January, reports showed that the government had not yet applied for the necessary documentation to distribute the AstraZeneca vaccine in South Africa.

It now comes to light that the bulk of the vaccines that we have secured will only arrive in our country between May and October, when winter returns, and with it the third deadly wave of the pandemic.

In a capable state, a caring and a competent government would have done everything in their power to secure lives and livelihoods. Instead, we witness a country obsessed with nonsensical shutdowns and bans which have destroyed our economy and millions of jobs, but now also has destroyed lives through sheer incompetence. Seemingly a few thousand more lives lost means nothing when there is money to be made by the government and its cronies.

The Department must continue to update the portfolio committee weekly on the rollout of the vaccine in the province. With the highest death rate in the country, we cannot afford to be left behind. You have to fight tooth and nail to get the vaccine to our people. The provincial government must also ensure that the rollout of the vaccine in our province is free of corruption. Our people feel betrayed and let down by the PPE debacle and a repeat must be avoided at all costs.

Finally, the most recent nine billion rands in missing assets, through the abuse of intelligence structures under Zuma, would have paid for 120 million doses of the vaccine, which costs 5 dollars per dose. Enough for the double vaccination of the entire country.