Horse owners plan to take Onderstepoort Biological Products to court over vaccine shortage

File photo of state veterinarian Gary Buhman examining horses for possible African Horse Sickness.

File photo of state veterinarian Gary Buhman examining horses for possible African Horse Sickness.

Published Sep 28, 2023


Horse owners are mounting a campaign to take legal action against the Onderstepoort Biological Products (OBP), government's owned sole producer of some critical animal vaccines, for their negligence and inability to fulfil their mandate to provide vaccine.

This comes as a group called the Southern African Agricultural Initiative (SAAI) circulates petitions for signatures to endorse and contribute to a legal challenge on the entity for failing to provide sufficient supplies of the African Horse Sickness (AHS) vaccine with concerns of an impending rainy season in most parts of the country fosters its outbreak.

"We must stand to protect our horses from this travesty. Please sign up and support SAAI in the court action to force the manufacturers of the Horse Sickness vaccine to deliver on their mandate before it is too late for SA's horses," the organisation said.

The SAAI said AHS was a devastating disease with a high mortality rate among unvaccinated animals and that yearly vaccinations against AHS was not just a recommendation, it’s a mandate by law.

"OBP, the sole producer of the vaccine in the Republic and the entirety of Southern Africa has consistently failed to produce and distribute sufficient quantities of the vaccine. This has left our equine community vulnerable and in distress. The situation has been dire for years with outcry and concerns raised as far back as 2021," SAAI said

The OBP, in response to Business Report questions, said like any other manufacturer of vaccines, there were times when capacity was stretched on a short-term basis, driven also by inconsistent demand patterns.

It said it was recovering from a production backlog created last year when there was equipment breakdown, which affected output, but it had managed to repair some of the equipment.

Stock levels varied every day as it continued to replenish while servicing back orders.

"We are doing our level best to keep our equipment operational at all times. OBP has increased production to a seven-day production week to match market demand.

The OBP said it was aware of the campaign for legal action.

"In the short-term, we continue to increase production as per market demand, and long-term, is investing more into our facility and equipment.

“The government as a shareholder, is appraised continuously about production challenges at OBP. It is the business of OBP to manufacture vaccines for the market, and not Government," OBP said.

The DA said this week it had met with the horse farming community members in Kyalami to hear their concerns regarding the AHS vaccine.

OBP, which were present at the meeting, indicated that their vaccine target production was 90 000 doses by the end of October annually, and thus far, they had only reached 65% of that target

Earlier this year, OBP said it suspected that there was panic buying amongst horse owners, which had distorted the market.

Horse owners said the death caused by AHS in particularly harrowing causing immense suffering before the eventual death.

The Red Meat Producers’ Organisation (RBO) is on record saying that the shortage of strategic vaccines in the livestock and animal industries had now caused a state of disaster in the red meat industry, the lack of which could impact human health.

James Faber, the chairman of the national RPO, said commercial and emerging producers were now suffering serious losses due to bluetongue outbreaks, which caused up to 50% mortality among herds, and African horse sickness among horses and donkeys that play a supporting role in the production process of red meat.