DA's John Steenhuisen accuses President Ramaphosa of lying about Covid-19 vaccine plans
Cape Town - The DA has accused President Cyril Ramaphosa of lying to the nation about the government’s vaccine acquisition plan.
DA leader John Steenhuisen said calls were made to reputable vaccine manufacturers only this year once the political pressure ramped up, despite the president claiming that talks commenced six months ago.
“We also know from news reports that it was left to Johnson & Johnson, a global pharmaceutical company 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.
Last week, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize announced that the country would receive a million doses of vaccine for front-line workers by the end of this month. A bilateral agreement with Serum Institute of India (SII) has been reached and a further 500 000 doses are expected next month.
“If the government has indeed been negotiating to acquire vaccines at scale for six months now, people have a right to be informed of why those negotiations patently failed. The public has a right to know why, after six months of claimed negotiations, not one single bilateral agreement was signed, and not a single dose secured for South Africa in 2020.
“Why has the government had to scramble around this year to secure even a measly 2% of our total vaccine requirement (1.5 million of the up to 80 million doses we require to achieve herd immunity)?,” Steenhuisen asked.
In his address on Monday, Ramaphosa provided details about the Covid-19 vaccine, which has been a hot topic as South Africans begin getting impatient while the roll-out has commenced around the world.
Ramaphosa said the country had secured 20 million vaccine doses which would be delivered “mainly“in the first half of the year. The government plans to vaccinate 40 million South Africans.
Ramaphosa said the government was in the process of procuring vaccines through three tunnels, which include Covax, the AU vaccine initiative and direct engagements with vaccine manufacturers.
Ramaphosa’s acting spokesperson Tyrone Seale said: “The president has been clear and consistent in outlining the urgency with which the government has been working with stakeholders and partners in the country, on the continent and globally to secure vaccines for all. This work is ongoing, as the president indicated in his most recent address to the nation.”
The Department of Health was approached for comment but failed to respond by deadline.
However, late on Wednesday evening the presidency released a statement in which it announced that the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT) it has secured a provisional 270 million vaccine doses for African countries, with at least 50 million being available for the crucial period of April to June 2021.
AVATT, a 10-member team drawn from across the continent, was established in August 2020 to ensure that the African continent would be able to secure sufficient vaccine doses to achieve herd immunity.
The vaccines will be supplied by Pfizer, AstraZeneca (through an independent licensee, Serum Institute of India) and Johnson & Johnson. The AVATT team continues to engage other suppliers to secure more vaccines.
President Ramaphosa said: “I wish to commend the members of the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team, Afreximbank, Africa CDC and all those who have been working tirelessly to secure these vaccines for the people of Africa. There is a long road ahead, but as Africa we are now seeing progress in our shared effort to defeat this disease.”
Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Groenewald said: “If the DA has evidence of its claims, then they must provide proper evidence and from there on action can be taken against the president. If they (the DA) do not have proper evidence, then they need to explain why they misled the country.”
Good general secretary Brett Herron said: “We have seen no evidence that the president misled the people of South Africa about the vaccines.
“If the DA has evidence that the South African government failed to plan for the roll-out of Covid-19 vaccinations, then they should present it to us. Accusing the president of lying to the people of South Africa at a time like this, without providing evidence, is reckless.”
Meanwhile, the ANC in the Western Cape has lashed out at the DA. They are demanding that Premier Alan Winde “stop playing politics with the virus and forget about the Western Cape acquiring vaccines on its own and independent of our national government”.