South African experts were the first to raise the alarm when they noted that the country’s leadership was silent on the subject of Covid-19 vaccinations. As the rest of the world kicked their Covid-19 combat plans into action, calls for transparency about the country’s strategy fell on deaf ears. The Democratic Alliance threatened government with a court battle to force leadership to disclose their plans. When the government finally released some information about their programme, the presentation was worryingly vague and based purely on conjecture, since the country still hadn’t secured any vaccines. One of the first procurement deals was bungled when government missed a payment deadline for Covax. The payment was eventually made by a privately run charity. Government is relying on private medical insurers to cross subsidise vaccine costs, which will provide 14 million shots. The country’s leadership has a list of excuses including lack of buying power, non disclosure agreements and lack of proof of efficacy for not announcing plans sooner. Having finally procured vaccines, leadership must still execute a complex rollout. While respected members of the medical fraternity point out that the failure to plan will likely cost many more lives, President Cyril Ramaphosa says government is doing the best it can.
South Africa’s Ramaphosa strikes back at critics over steps to secure vaccines
By Hilton Shone
(Bloomberg) – South African President Cyril Ramaphosa defended the government’s approach to secure Covid-19 vaccines, saying it had acted as swiftly as possible in the face of extensive negotiations to get sufficient doses.
Medical professionals, scientists and labor unions have criticised the administration’s poor planning and said its haphazard process and a lack of transparency led to unnecessary delays and cost lives. The country has confirmed about 1.4 million infections so far, the most in Africa, and deaths have exceeded 40,000 amid a resurgence of the coronavirus.
“Given the unprecedented global demand for vaccine doses, combined with the far greater buying power of wealthier countries, we had to engage in extensive and protracted negotiations with manufacturers to secure enough vaccines,” Ramaphosa said in his weekly newsletter published on the Presidency’s website.
Earlier this month, the president announced a deal with the Serum Institute of India that will enable 750,000 health workers to get the AstraZeneca vaccines by the end of February. As was the case with this agreement “the details of deals with manufacturers will be released as and when negotiations are concluded and we are released from the communications terms of the non-disclosure agreements,” Ramaphosa said.
The first vaccines would be provided to health-care workers, he said. The second phase of the vaccine rollout would target essential workers, teachers, the elderly and people with co-morbidities, and the third phase will include other adults in the population.
“A comprehensive rollout strategy and an accompanying logistical framework will be implemented in partnership with the private sector, civil society, traditional leadership, the religious sector and others,” Ramaphosa said. “It is vital that this is a society-wide campaign, in which everyone is involved and no one is left behind.”
The opposition Democratic Alliance said Monday it would proceed with legal action against the government if it hadn’t published publicly “a detailed, costed and practical vaccine acquisition plan by day end.”