Government slammed on rollout plan of vaccines
Johannesburg - Political parties and civil society organisations pressured the South African government to prematurely secure one million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines – ignoring a directive by the World Health Organization (WHO) for all countries to receive the Covax vaccines at the same time.
This was the view of head of the advisory committee on Covid-19, Prof Karim Abdool Salim, on Thursday during his preliminary recount of the first anniversary of the death of the first victim of Covid-19 in the country last year.
The DA was one of the parties that lodged the legal action against President Cyril Ramaphosa in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria in January. The party initially served Ramaphosa with a letter of demand, asking him to outline his roll-out plan for the vaccines within seven days or face legal action. Ramaphosa failed to comply, and the DA approached the High Court for a formal litigation but withdrew the legal action after Health Minister Zweli Mkhize announced the pending arrival of the AstraZeneca vaccine after the country entered into a bilateral deal with the Indian government.
Salim made these revelations while addressing health experts and the media about his views on Covid-19 – a year later – in memory of the first casualty who died in Durban on March 5 last year.
During his address, Salim listed South Africa as one of the countries in the world which ignored WHO’s orders and entered into a bilateral agreement with India to secure the AstraZeneca vaccines.
“The South African government is one of the countries that jumped the queues and entered into bilaterals despite orders by WHO for all countries to receive Covax vaccines at the same time.
“Was it worth it? I don’t know,” Salim said.
The epidemiologist said South Africa took the decision to secure those doses due to massive internal political pressure.
He said WHO had instructed all countries to receive vaccines at the same time to help all of the countries to suppress the virus. He stopped short of attacking the government under Ramaphosa but was quick to lodge a veiled attack on Western Cape Premier Alan Winde and his provincial cabinet for insisting that they would go alone to obtain vaccines for their citizens.
Without mentioning the Western Cape province by name, Prof Salim said those who wanted to follow that route wanted to treat their provincial boundaries as a “little island”.
“If KwaZulu-Natal province wanted to secure vaccines on its own – a lot of people from other provinces will flock to our province to get vaccinated. South Africa got its vaccines – exactly eight days before Uganda got its Covax vaccines,” Prof Salim said.
He made the analogy between the delivery of AstraZeneca vaccines in South Africa and a delivery of Covax vaccines in Uganda eight days later, to support his views that the country bypassed WHO’s instructions.
“The World Health Organisation ordered that all the countries must receive 20% of the vaccines at the same time but we chose to sacrifice that,” Salim said.
Despite his harsh criticism about the manner the first vaccines were obtained, Salim praised the government for its decision to put the country under Level 5 lockdown in March last year.
He said the decision including the ban on the sale of alcohol had significantly reduced infections and strain on healthcare facilities.
Salim, however, conceded that he was initially opposed to the ban of the sale of cigarettes and alcohol.