Democratic Alliance (DA) federal leader John Steenhuisen has called out President Cyril Ramaphosa for allegedly misleading the nation on vaccine acquisition and refusing to give any detail on alleged discussions with AstraZeneca.
“President Ramaphosa claimed that his government has been working on vaccine acquisition for six months, which would have been since July last year. Yet there is much evidence to suggest this is simply not the truth,” said Steenhuisen in a statement.
Steenhuisen’s statement comes after Ramaphosa announced on Monday that the South African government had been engaging directly with several vaccine manufacturers for over six months.
“We cannot fully discard the risk that government’s reluctance to secure a full supply of vaccines from reputable suppliers is because the politically connected are hoping to score kickbacks from Chinese and Russians suppliers.”
According to the Steenhuisen, the DA has been reliably informed that engagement with the “reputable vaccine manufacturers” only started this year, due to political pressure.
South African officials allegedly claimed to have been in direct discussions with AstraZeneca since September, yet it is the Serum Institute of India, and not AstraZeneca itself, that holds rights to sell the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in South Africa.
Professor Salim Abdool Karim, co-chair of the government’s Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC), on Tuesday stated in an interview: “South Africa did not join the vaccine race, we did not pay the necessary deposits to secure vaccines in large numbers as other countries did.”
Steenhuisen said he was shocked to hear SA’s top virologist, Professor Shabir Mahdi, say that South Africa would struggle to secure vaccines this year. “Why on earth would this be the case, if government has been negotiating in good faith for six months now?
“It seems that government put all its eggs into the Covax basket, knowing full well that this multilateral arrangement would only ever be able to provide 10% of our total requirements,” said Steenhuisen.
The party lamented that if the government had really been in negotiations to acquire vaccines at scale for six months now, the public had a right to know why the negotiations failed and why, after six months, not even a single agreement was signed.
“We also know from news reports that it was left to Johnson & Johnson, whose vaccine is partly manufactured locally here in SA, to reach out to the SA government in early August, months after most other high and middle-income countries had already secured their supply.
“And even then, the SA government cancelled the scheduled meeting and only got round to meeting them in September whereupon health officials showed no keen interest to secure supply. As a result, every single one of the 300 million vaccines put into vials in Port Elizabeth are set to leave our shores, if they haven’t done so already,” said Steenhuisen.
Steenhuisen said that the government needed to pull up its socks and be transparent with its citizens, in order for things to work. The DA would be submitting parliamentary questions and Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) applications to establish exactly when the process began and what had been achieved so far.