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Where are our coronavirus vaccines? South Africans ask

Haphazard procurement process angers SA’s top medical scientists and frustrates citizens.
Minister Zweli Mkhize, Minister of Health. Image: GCIS

South Africa’s government, lauded for its swift lockdown in March to curb the spread of the coronavirus, is now being pilloried for being slow off the mark to secure vaccines.

While developing nation peers such as Indonesia and Argentina are among more than 50 already administering shots, South Africa’s inoculation program has yet to get off the ground. In December, it pinned down sufficient doses to cover just 10% of the population from Covax, a facility that aims to distribute vaccines equitably around the world. But those are only due to start arriving next month and the authorities have been scrambling to source additional supplies.

The haphazard procurement process has angered South Africa’s top medical scientists and frustrated labor unions, business groups and opposition parties, who say the country doesn’t have time to lose. South Africa has confirmed 1.38 million infections so far, the most in Africa, and more than 39 000 deaths. Hospitals can barely cope with a resurgence in cases.

“It was poor planning on the part of the government,” said Shabir Madhi, a professor of vaccinnology and lead researcher for the South African arm of the AstraZeneca Plc and University of Oxford vaccine trial. “They failed the country.”

No money

President Cyril Ramaphosa and Health Minister Zweli Mkhize have been shuttling between interviews to defend their approach. Their explanations, and those of other officials, range from not having the money to pay for shots upfront to proposed contracts breaching legislative and transparency requirements.

Much of the criticism is directed at the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Vaccines and its chairman, Barry Schoub. Shortly after the panel was appointed in September, Schoub recommended that the country eschew direct talks with pharmaceutical companies and get shots from Covax instead. The government followed his advice and agreed to buy half the doses it was entitled to from the facility.

Four months on, few suppliers can deliver at short notice, with a number of nations having prepaid to secure early access, sometimes ordering several times what their populations need. Some companies that are still taking orders are charging less than the prices available from Covax, which enables rich and middle-income nations to subsidise poor ones.

Schoub, Ramaphosa and Mkhize argued South Africa risked losing money if it entered bilateral agreements to secure vaccines that proved ineffective. Madhi said the deposits would be returned if the shots failed. Schoub didn’t respond to Bloomberg’s calls and messages seeking comment.

“Vaccines should not be driven by market forces,” Schoub said on a webinar on Thursday, urging equitable distribution of the shots globally. “It’s actually grotesque what has happened.”

Ramaphosa this month announced a deal with the Serum Institute of India Ltd. that will enable 750 000 health workers to get the AstraZeneca vaccines by the end of February. An additional 20 million courses, including the Covax allocation, have been secured from Pfizer Inc., Johnson & Johnson and other suppliers, according to the president. He insists that preparations to vaccinate two-thirds of the population of 60 million by year-end began months ago.

“We are going to be getting vaccines in the numbers we need,” he said at a Jan. 19 briefing, where he announced the formation of an inter-ministerial committee to oversee the inoculations. “It will be a game changer as far as dealing with the pandemic is concerned.”

The 1.8 million-member Congress of South African Trade Unions, a key ally of the ruling African National Congress, isn’t buying the government’s reassurances.

‘Criminal negligence’

“We read them the riot act. This has been nothing short of criminal negligence,” said Matthew Parks, Cosatu’s parliamentary coordinator. “If this doesn’t get fixed it could destroy Cyril’s legacy or even his chances of a second term.”

A failure to bring the pandemic under control could also erode support for the ANC in municipal elections due to take place later this year, and may enable Ramaphosa’s detractors within the party to question his credibility.

Ramaphosa’s and Mkhize’s offices didn’t respond to Bloomberg’s request for comment.

In a letter responding to queries from a non-profit, Corruption Watch, the National Treasury said it told the health ministry on Jan. 6 it could negotiate directly with vaccine suppliers, deviating from normal procurement rules.

A charity had to pay the Covax deposit after the government missed a self-imposed deadline. Business organisations were only approached for help in early January. Medical insurers have agreed to pay for vaccines to cover their members as well as an equal number of others who don’t have cover.

No deals

John Steenhuisen, the leader of the main opposition Democratic Alliance, said he’d been reliably informed that talks with reputable vaccine manufacturers only started this year.

“The public has a right to know why, after six months of claimed negotiations, not one single bilateral agreement was signed and not a single dose secured for South Africa in 2020,” he told reporters this week.

Leading scientists were the first to raise the alarm in a January 2 editorial in several South African publications, calling on Ramaphosa to fire health department officials who oversaw vaccine procurement. They included Glenda Gray, the president of the South African Medical Research Council, and other scientists who were removed without explanation from Mkhize’s advisory council in September.

Schoub told the BBC that the scientists who penned the editorial “might have another agenda, which has caused them to go on a rampage” but didn’t say what the agenda might be.

“The delay is unfortunate but I don’t think its total gloom,” as is being portrayed by the media, Schoub said on the webinar.

A vaccination campaign covering 67% of the population will cost about R20 billion, of which about 30% would be covered by medical insurers, according to Mkhize. That compares with a R389 billion loss in economic output in 2020, a January 7 paper by South African scientists asserted.

Critics also say South Africa squandered the advantage of hosting as many as four Covid-19 vaccine trials — the only country in Africa to do so — as well as having Johnson & Johnson agree to use a South African factory that has the capacity to produce 300 million doses a year. All that should have helped secure deals, they said.

Instead, South Africa may face months more of lockdowns, further resurgences and increasing isolation as other countries race ahead with inoculations.

“They are simply going to close their borders to our goods and people,” said Parks. “Everybody is losing far more by not sorting this out.”

© 2021 Bloomberg

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Stolen.

History will judge not only the bestial and incompetent ANC, but also their voting enablers and media cheerleaders.

And the arm chair activists who endlessly parrot the same story on moneyweb regardless of context will be celebrated as freedom fighters surely.

The public should not be concerned about the securing the corvid vaccine. They are only cagey and delaying the announcement because they are still busy with trying to see which supplier is prepared to give them a decent underhand deal on the vaccine as well as who they give the tender to roll out the vaccine. We are talking of people pocketing 10 billion plus out of this whole debacle.

Apperently they have secured 9 million doses from Johnson already.

Government should allow us to secure the vaccine directly from the suppliers through a non government organization to avoid the government from having a monopoly over the vaccine. There are a lot of individuals who would like to try and get the jab as early as possible to circumvent the government fiasco and perhaps non delivery.

Government should open up a 1 year commission of enquiry into what went wrong. After the commission, we could set up an SOE to acquire the vaccines.

This should be headed up by appropriate cadres with the correct struggle credentials.

Then, when the correct ideological framework is in place, the program can get underway.

Quite simple really.

I wonder if we can get the same vaccines as what they have in Norway. Those should go to the politicians to protect and lead SA

Maybe it ended up on the black market.

“European Union (EU) members will pay just 1.78 euros ($2.16) for AstraZeneca’s shots”, “The National Department of Health confirms that the price $5.25 is what was quoted to us,” deputy director-general of health Anban Pillay said via text message, without explaining the price difference.” (AFP). Well, easy to explain, just listen to what surfaces at the Zondo commission; look at the arms scandal; PPE; etc.; etc. – teh balance of $3.09 is for direct kick-backs for the ANC and its cadres in high office. And then, when vaccines land, the price doubles up further to allow the indirectly connected their turn to wallow in the trough. The just cannot help it; it is ingrained in their genes. And you ain’t seen nuffin’ yet – just wait for when the EFF and its fighters for lucre gets a handle on power.

Probably reason why ANC will not allow the WC Government to source vaccines.Only explanation me thinks

We have had almost a year of negative reporting on the virus. The result; mass hysteria. The media needs to adopt a positive approach. How about a daily countdown as to the availability of the vaccine(Cyril says February). If the vaccine finally does become available, a daily report of the number of vaccinations carried out.
Perhaps the media has a different agenda?

Covid-19 is killing 800 South Africans a day. That is 26 times the daily murder rate. I’d say hysteria is warranted, not least because of the ANC’s dreadful record on the issue.

There is not a single aspect of this pandemic that the ANC has handled in a transparent, time-efficient, cost-effective way. It has been nothing but another opportunity for looting and plunder, and the handling of the vaccine has brutally exposed the ANC’s incompetence – one of the vaccine manufacturers talked to the ANC months ago and got no response. We’ve yet to have a needle in an arm while Israel has vaccinated 20% of its population and even the UK is managing a credible rollout amid its chaotic politicisation of the issue.

The media has reported those facts truthfully and accurately.

You appear to deny that. So what is YOUR agenda? Ek sal by die radio luister.

Your comment implies that an additional 800 South Africans are dying everyday due to Covid. In 2020 South Africa had a populationof 56,463,620 and a death rate of 9.29 per 1,000.(Source IndexMundi). If what you imply is true the monthly deaths would be 24,000 or 54.9% more than the normal monthly deaths.
Why has the media not reported your facts?
Numbers don’t lie.

Callies hasn’t seen enough of the world to realise that not everyone who dies in South Africa was murdered. But I guess that is what government schooling brings.
“Numbers don’t lie”. What a joker!

They aren’t my facts. They are the Department of Health’s facts. And the (multiple) breaches of the 800 deaths-per-day level were widely reported.

The ANC can only destroy things and make everything worse. The track record is indisputable.

That’s why we’re so good at lockdowns and so bad at getting a vaccine.

If we had a decent government the reverse would apply. No lockdowns and plenty of vaccines.

Yeah, only the loser governments did lock downs.

Ineptocracy (in-ep-toc’-ra-cy) – a system of government where the least capable to lead are elected by the least capable of producing, and where the members of society least likely to sustain themselves or succeed, are rewarded with goods and services paid for by the confiscated wealth of a diminishing number of producers.

Let’s just leave it there…

I believe that is termed a ‘kakistocracy’, which perfectly suits the South African vernacular, and is very much on point.

Cancer needs more time to skim the vaccine gravy same as they did with mask programme . it is the way things r done on the dark continent . just look to drc and nigeria who have been independent fr 60yrs , SA continuing on downward spiral

Lets just call a spade a spade. The ANC is simply incapable in trying to run a country starting with the highest leaders. Mediocrity, a huge inferiority complex and simply poor quality leaders are delivering the results that we have.

Also, governments on this continent do not have a track record of caring for their constituents-far from it-self enrichment prevails in the continent with the least development on the plant

End of comments.

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