Cyril’s great vaccine failure

John Steenhuisen says it is not poverty or “vaccine apartheid” condemning people to death


31 March 2021

South Africa is heading into the Easter weekend and a possible third wave without a single vaccine having been administered outside of trials.

It is not poverty or “vaccine apartheid” condemning people to death. It is President Ramaphosa’s administration, which has failed spectacularly to deliver timeously on a Covid-19 vaccine rollout, just as President Mbeki’s failed to deliver an ARV rollout.

Benchmark countries such as Chile and Rwanda have achieved rates of 300 000 and 70 000 doses administered per day, respectively. Israel has already covered 55% of its population and the US, UK and Chile 25%.

They’re trying to spin it otherwise, but there is no national rollout by government. The “rollout” they are crowing about is the expansion of the Johnson & Johnson trials, run by trial scientists around existing trial sites, using other countries’ leftover J&J trial vaccines. The J&J vaccine has not even been approved yet by SAHPRA for general rollout in South Africa.

Hence South Africa fell 75% short of its target for March, vaccinating only a quarter of the one million healthcare workers it promised. This means 99.6% of our population remains unprotected ahead of an expected third wave.

Having failed to secure bulk supplies of any other vaccines, the decision to resell South Africa’s million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to the African Union was irrational and unforgivable. They squandered this one precious opportunity to protect half a million high-risk individuals from severe disease and death.

A group of top medical scientists has called this decision irresponsible. They also find it to be unethical, since if government truly believed the AstraZeneca vaccine does not work, they should not have sold it on to the AU where the same variants are circulating.

Quite likely, the true reason behind this bizarre decision was to hide the fact that government still lacks a workable rollout plan and fears being shown up by the DA-run Western Cape Provincial Government which stands ready to administer 30 000 to 40 000 doses per day as soon as vaccines are available.

Discovery Health claims it can administer 50 000 doses per day once it gets vaccines. Yet there are no vaccines and there is no hard information on when and how many vaccines will be delivered. As with our energy and jobs shortages, the people of South Africa have the solutions, but the ANC government stands in their way, obsessed with centralizing control, yet incapable of delivering.

In a speech on Monday, President Ramaphosa tried to lay the blame on “vaccine apartheid”, implying it is deeply unfair that countries which didn’t bother to order vaccines last year haven’t received any. Is “vaccine apartheid” also to blame for our lack of workable rollout plan and lack of transparency?

Ramaphosa can point as many fingers as he likes, but the buck stops with him.

The vaccine programme should be his top priority and he should have been directing it himself from the get-go, not delegating to his corrupt deputy president and hapless health minister, both of whom are far more interested in their own career progression than they are in saving lives and livelihoods.

Last week, I sent the president a list of 15 questions relating to South Africa’s vaccine programme, asking him to be open and clear with South Africans. The reply from the Presidency was dismissive, referring me to the Health Department, from whence very little hard information has been forthcoming.

The Israeli president personally made seventeen calls to vaccine suppliers last year. Ramaphosa has known since last year that Aspen Pharmacare would be manufacturing 300 million vaccines for J&J at their facility in Port Elizabeth. Yet he only took it upon himself to intervene and “secure” J&J vaccines for South Africa this week.

Instead of answers, all he has been able to offer the nation is spin. This week it was his announcement that South Africa “will have access to” 30 million J&J vaccines produced at the Aspen facility in the Eastern Cape. Without a definite date, this statement is as meaningless as all the past ones announcing other bulk vaccines his government has “secured”, none of which has materialised.

More telling is the revelation this week that we can expect delays in the delivery of J&J vaccines because government has failed to implement a key contract clause in its agreement with the supplier, concluded in early February.

Meantime, South Africans remain locked down and locked out, living in an effective dictatorship under a continuous state of disaster as the most travel-restricted people on the planet. Prospects for revival of our tourism industry remain distant.

At some point in the second half of 2021, global vaccine shortages will suddenly swing to global glut, as large countries such as the US reach herd immunity. Then, last-in-line Ramaphosa will spin it as a massive victory when his feckless government procures sufficient vaccines. Don’t be fooled.

History will judge Ramaphosa harshly for his great vaccine failure. Voters should too.

Warm regards,

John Steenhuisen