South Africa’s vaccine roll-out programme seems to have hit a bit of turbulence. In this past week, the government temporarily suspended the administration of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine.
This was after the US Food and Drug Administration revealed the potential link between the vaccine and a rare type of blood clot.
The suspension of the US J&J vaccine comes in the wake of the government’s request for the Serum Institute of India to take back the 1 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine which the company sent to our country in early February.
Besides issues of expiry dates and the inability of that vaccine to fight South Africa’s Covid-19 variant, the government is said to have eventually sold these doses to countries on the continent.
What comes as no surprise are the revelations by Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize – that J&J would not supply 20 million doses of its vaccine, which is now being seriously questioned, until our government supported an investment in a particular company here in South Africa.
According to Mkhize, he made this known “to demonstrate to members (of Parliament) some of the difficult and sometimes unreasonable terms and preconditions that we have had to navigate”.
One cannot help but once again point to China in leading not only the rolling out of its vaccine programme, but the production of its own vaccines against Covid-19.
The strategic advisory group of experts on immunisation of the World Health Organisation (WHO) have indicated that two of the Chinese vaccines, Sinovac and Sinopharm, have “demonstrated safety and good efficacy against symptomatic Covid-19 disease”. These vaccines are likely to be included on the emergency use list of the WHO by the end of April.
Sinovac and Sinopharm are only two of the four Chinese-produced vaccines. While these two have been exported to at least 70 countries, Hungary and Serbia have reportedly accredited the vaccines with emergency use approval status.
The Ukraine has also announced a completion of its studies on Sinovac’s vaccine and has commenced a programme of rolling out the shots to its people.
Yet confidence in the Chinese vaccines has not only come from WHO, European countries such as Hungary, Serbia and Ukraine, but diplomats resident in China have also indicated their reception of the Sino shots.
While Argentinian health minister Carla Vizzotti tweeted about the Sinopharm vaccine that “the Phase III trial showed an acceptable profile of immunogenicity, efficacy and safety, no serious adverse events”, in Brazil the clinical trials of the Chinese vaccines are also said to be in their final stages.
In the absence of a locally produced vaccine, we should be asking why we are not procuring vaccines from our strategic Chinese partners.
Since 2007, the relationship between China and South Africa has experienced exponential growth, especially economically, but sadly we are not hearing about our government procuring Chinese-made vaccines.
Even Zimbabwe is reported to be receiving its second batch of vaccines from China.
In the face of vaccine nationalism from the West, it makes no sense that South Africa is not looking east once again to acquire the much-needed vaccines.
Not only are we behind in rolling out the shots to the arm but we are grossly behind in purchasing them.
We must be able to rely on our developing world partners, especially China, to ensure that we ensure the health security of our people just as we relied on our eastern partners to build our economy after colonialism and the 2009 global financial crisis.
We will be fooled once again if we were to think that help will come from the West. and vaccines.
* Wesley Seale’s PhD is on Sino-South African relations.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.