Govt and President’s deadly vaccine lies must stop – John Steenhuisen

DA leader says ANC govt shunned Pfizer’s attempts to enter into talks about Covid-19 vaccine

Government and the President’s deadly vaccine lies must stop now

20 January 2021

Note to Editors: Please find attached a soundbite by John Steenhuisen MP

President Ramaphosa’s solemn assurance that his government has been negotiating for the supply of Covid-19 vaccines for the past six months is fast being unmasked as a damage-control lie. The latest exposure of this lie comes in the form of a recorded phone conversation between a Pfizer employee and a Northern Cape businessman in which it is revealed that the pharmaceutical company tried, over and over for many months, to enter into talks with the SA government, to no avail.

Aside from an initial conversation in July last year and one subsequent meeting with the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Vaccines (MAC) – which provided no further guidance on government’s vaccination plans – government showed no interest in pursuing negotiations until it was far too late.

And Pzifer is not the only example of this. Earlier it was revealed by Johnson and Jonson – who have been testing and producing vaccines right here in SA in partnership with Aspen Pharmacare – that government showed no initial interest in pursuing their vaccine and even cancelled their scheduled meeting back in August. By the time government finally sprang into action, it was too late as all 300 million doses had been snapped up by other countries. And I know of yet another reputable manufacturer who confirmed a similar story to me.

It is clear that President Ramaphosa has now embarked on a desperate mission to soften this narrative in order to exonerate his government of its biggest and deadliest failure of the entire Covid crisis. Compare the ANC government’s repeated shunning of Pfizer’s attempts to enter into talks with that of the Israeli government, whose prime minister had personally spoken to the Pfizer CEO 17 times over the course of several months last year to secure vaccines. Israel is now on track to have all its adult citizens vaccinated by the end of March. We don’t even have a single vaccine in the country yet.

This is a shameful failure, on par with government’s delay in rolling out life-saving antiretrovials (ARVs) for HIV positive South Africans two decades ago, which resulted in an estimated 300,000 premature deaths. It is a failure that should – and elsewhere would – bring down a government. Consider that the entire Dutch government resigned last week following a scandal over child benefits. Their Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, took full responsibility for the scandal on behalf of his cabinet and said they had no choice but to collectively resign.

I have seen commentators in the media and on social media wryly joking about the Dutch cabinet resignation in comparison to our own government. But it is no joke. We have to demand the same level of accountability from ours. We cannot simply say “this is the ANC, so don’t expect the same”. The Pfizer revelation cannot remain a solitary news report, after which we wipe the slate clean and brace for the next scandal. Every watchdog in our society – from opposition parties to civil society to the media – has to demand real accountability, and not stop demanding it until it happens.

This is why the DA instructed its lawyers to write to President Ramaphosa on Monday demanding that he respond, within seven days, with the full timeline and minutes of government’s dealings with all vaccine suppliers. He must also provide a detailed rollout plan for the vaccination programme including vaccine type, confirmed quantities of each, delivery dates of each, storage and transport arrangements, rollout priority, and their plan to communicate all of this to citizens.

We have informed him that should he not respond within seven days, or should his response be unsatisfactory, we will be left with no choice but to approach the courts to compel him to do so. It will not be the first time the ANC government finds itself on the wrong side of such a legal challenge, as their delayed and secretive ARV programme two decades ago was met with a similar, successful court action.

Our country cannot afford another year like 2020. We have no reserves to absorb the economic impact, and it is clear we have already run out of money to mitigate the effects of lockdowns. Our only ticket out of this is the fast and widespread rollout of a vaccination plan. The ANC government has botched this, and they will have to bear the full responsibility – both legally and electorally.

But right now they also have to do everything they can to make up lost time and to get our delayed vaccination programme back on track. And the first step is to come clean on all the lies and give South Africans the unvarnished truth. If they want cooperation from citizens in this critical programme, they cannot deceive them any longer.

Issued by John Steenhuisen, Leader of the Democratic Alliance, 20 January 2021