IRR welcomes Covid-19 vaccine progress, but...

Hermann Pretorius says it seems govt plans to bar private sector participation

IRR welcomes Covid-19 vaccine progress following legal letter to Minister, but important issues remain

The IRR is pleased by the progress made with regards to the procurement of Covid-19 vaccines for South Africans in the 72 hours since the delivery by legal representatives of the Institute of an urgent letter to the Minister of Health.

Since the letter, actionable steps have been announced to bring forward the initial availability of vaccines – initially stated to be towards the end of the second quarter. Pressure on government has now laid the groundwork for the availability of 1 million vaccinations to health workers by the end of this month.

The IRR further welcomes apparent progress in negotiations between he South African government and pharmaceutical manufacturers AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and Moderna.

However, two significant concerns remain for the IRR:

Firstly, it still seems to be the position of the government that private sector entities will be barred from participation in the rollout of vaccines to South Africans. Many private sector entities have already shown themselves to be willing and able to shoulder much of the burden in terms of South Africa’s health response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The decision by government to disallow private sector participation with regards to vaccines risks unnecessary delays in vaccines reaching South Africans desperate to return to economic productivity and further runs the risk of having the poorest taxpayers pay for the vaccinations of wealthier South Africans who have the means to obtain via the private sector the necessary medical options and treatment.

Secondly, it is an unnecessary risk to lives and livelihoods to exclude the participation of private sector entities in the rollout of vaccines, thereby delaying the process of medically protecting South Africans from Covid-19. The government’s newly stated target of having the majority of South Africans receive vaccinations by the end of the near is not adequate to the urgency of allowing the return of normality for many millions who’ve endured immense hardship as result of South Africa’s Covid-19 situation.

Says Hermann Pretorius, IRR Head of Strategic Initiatives: “Given the progress achieved over the last 72 hours and communications received from the Minister of Health and government regarding negotiations with pharmaceutical firms, the IRR will now suspend legal actions in this regard. The IRR will however remain engaged with progress relating to Covid-19 vaccine availability and looks forward to further practical and actionable announcements by the government during the coming week. Should progress stall, the IRR will consider legal action to ensure that the health of South Africans is not compromised by government.”


‘What are you doing to ensure South Africans get the Covid vaccine?’ IRR asks regulator

In the next phase of its campaign to determine what the government is doing to secure a Covid-19 vaccine for South Africa the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) yesterday wrote to the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA). This was to determine what actions the body has taken to secure a Covid-19 vaccine for the country.

The letter sent today is part of a broader campaign that the IRR has launched to ensure that the South African government takes the necessary steps to secure a Covid-19 vaccine.

The IRR will also be writing to the minister of health, Zweli Mkhize; the MECs for health in all nine provinces; as well as the heads of medical supply and insurance companies. It will also consider legal action, if necessary, to compel action to ensure South Africans gain access to the vaccine, which is now recognized as a vital tool in ending the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the letter the IRR asked SAHPRA what measures had been taken to secure a Covid-19 vaccine for South Africa and which (if any) vaccines were currently under consideration for South Africa. The IRR also asked for details around regulatory approvals as well as what timeframe the SAHPRA expected a vaccine to be approved by.

The IRR has asked SAHPRA for an answer to its queries by 11 January.

Said IRR Head of Strategic Initiatives, Hermann Pretorius: ‘This letter is another salvo in our battle to get the government to be transparent and open about what it is doing to ensure that South Africans have access to a vaccine against Covid-19, which is a vital tool in beating this pandemic. The longer we wait to secure a vaccine supply the greater the economic and human toll will be in South Africa.’

He added: ‘The IRR will continue to ask the hard questions as to why the government’s strategy around securing a vaccine has been so shambolic. This is literally a matter of life-and-death.’

Statement issued by Hermann Pretorius, Head of Strategic Initiatives, IRR, 7 January 2021