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Happy day! But will vaccine reach those it’s meant for?

The newly arrived consignment of AstraZeneca’s Covishield vaccine is transferred from the Emirates aeroplane to a truck to be transported to the Biovac Institute’s storage facility. Picture: Jairus Mmutle/GCIS

The newly arrived consignment of AstraZeneca’s Covishield vaccine is transferred from the Emirates aeroplane to a truck to be transported to the Biovac Institute’s storage facility. Picture: Jairus Mmutle/GCIS

Published Feb 4, 2021


by Alex Tabisher

On Monday, 1 February 2021, just after 3pm, a plane landed at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. Less than an hour after that, the first load of vaccine against Covid-19 was off-loaded and became our first real effort at confronting this malevolent toad that had squatted on our bodies and psyches for over 300 days.

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I felt a thrill as I watched the visuals of the plane landing in the rain. Sesotho, Sepedi and Tswana refer to the rain as pula. Xhosa calls it imvula. It is a blessing. No less a blessing than the precious cargo we off-loaded. What I felt was close to the elation of my first vote which I cast as a free democratic citizen of a country that had buckled for years under colonialism and that pernicious off-shoot, legal racism, aka apartheid. What we took possession of was 1 million doses of AstraZeneca, a vaccine against Covid 19.

Cheers and kudos to President Cyril Ramaphosa. Streamers for his vice-prez, the Minister of Health and the teams behind them. Power to the truck drivers who will transport and store this cargo until roll-out in about two weeks. What a day! What an achievement! When they were about to say we were down and out, we rose again. The fight is on! After all, it was in this country that the first heart transplant was done! We also produced dolosse and the Kreepy Krauly! Who says we are losers?!!

A word about the notion of vaccine. A vaccine is a biological preparation used to stimulate the production of antibodies and provide immunity against one or several diseases prepared from the causative agent of a disease without inducing the disease. The concept was devised by Dr Edward Jenner who demonstrated the effectiveness of cowpox against smallpox in 1798. Smallpox of the cow was called Variolae vaccinae, hence the derivative “vaccine”.

At bottom, the vaccine galvanises the “soldiers of the body” to rally when it recognises an antigen (toxin or other foreign substance). It can be administered using routes like injection, oral, nasal, intramuscular and intradermal application. Our earliest experience of this type of treatment is the various injections and inoculations babies suffer during the early days of their lives which provide protection against TB, poliomyelitis, measles and such like illnesses. Later, travellers suffer the same indignity as protection against catching a disease in another country.

As a columnist, it now is my sacred (but not pleasant) duty to temper the celebrations somewhat and look at the reality. The numbers say it all. One million doses for a population in excess of 50 million? Who gets it and who looks on? Are there more deliveries on the way? Hopefully.

Importantly, how can we prevent the corruption that blights our credence so consistently? We had corruption in the tendering and distribution of personal protective equipment, which was disastrously shameful. Can we guarantee that these doses get to the million patients targeted?

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There are many more imponderables I could quote, but I do not want to sour this glorious day. It should be declared a public holiday. We should all stand shoulder to should (oops, social distancing) and say with one voice: We can beat this thing.

A lot of people are going to make a lot of money. The linguist in me wants to point out how close the words “patent” and “patient” are when we look at them.

To me, that is the elephant in the room. How much of the money allocated goes to service providers and how much to the actual purchase and distribution of the medicine? Watch this space.

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Literally Yours is a weekly column from Cape Argus reader Alex Tabisher. He can be contacted on email by [email protected]

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

Cape Argus

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