File picture: Reuters
File picture: Reuters

State’s vaccine plans could be challenged by Health Justice Initiative

By Staff Reporter Time of article published Dec 19, 2020

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Pretoria – The Health Justice Initiative (HJI) is threatening to go to court to get access to plans for the planned roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines in South Africa, while the DA is to complain formally that the deadline for a down payment for the Covax programme to procure and distribute a Covid-19 vaccines was missed.

This week the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) announced it would perform rolling reviews of the safety and efficacy of all vaccine candidates, and that it had received its first submission from Johnson & Johnson.

The company’s vaccine is one of at least 200 in development worldwide, 11 of which are in advanced stages of testing with four being trialled in the country: Johnson & Johnson, Novavax, Astrazeneca (with the University of Oxford) and Pfizer-biontech.

South Africa expects to have a Covid-19 vaccine by the middle of next year, with the government carefully weighing up the criteria for suitable local applications, including cost, administration and storage, according to Professor Salim Abdool Karim, the chair of the ministerial advisory committee on Covid-19.

The HJI’s Fatima Hassan said the issue around payments was a red herring and a distraction.

“Besides the matter of payment to Covax - who seem to be changing their positions around deadlines and agreements - the real issue is around the equitable access to the vaccines when they do become available,” said Hassan.

She said there were several issues that remained unclear.

“We still have not heard anything from the government and health ministry around which vaccine we are possibly leaning towards. Who are the manufacturers? When will we have them? How are these vaccines going to be distributed?” asked Hassan.

She said while the payment deadline matter had been brewing for some time, more information was needed around the equitability of access to a vaccine.

“There seems to be this speculative game that is being played when it comes to the vaccine access and roll-out. We hope this will be made clearer when the Health Minister addresses the nation later on today. We need more information around the entire issue,” said Hassan.

The Solidarity Fund’s CEO Tandi Nzimande announced that it would make the payment of R327 million to Coax to secure a vaccine for South Africa as soon as it gets the go-ahead from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations (Gavi).

Covax, a global Covid-19 vaccine allocation plan co-led by the World Health Organisation (WHO), is working to lower prices for poor and middle-income countries.

When he addressed the nation this week, President Cyril Ramaphosa said SA was committed to Covax, despite missing the first payment period.

The DA has threatened to file a complaint against Finance Minister Tito Mboweni for missing the December 15 deadline. The party has also made a legal request for government to disclosure its plans to access and distribute Covid-19 vaccines.

DA leader John Steenhuisen said: “It is unconscionable that our government can botch up the acquisition of a life-saving vaccine, that is safe and readily available when thousands are at risk of dying from this pandemic.”

About 10% of the adult population are expected to get a vaccine, including health workers and those with compromised immunity systems due to age or comorbidities.

Meanwhile, Ramaphosa on Thursday congratulated Abdool Karim for being awarded this year's international John Maddox Prize for standing up for science during the coronavirus pandemic.

As Covid-19 figures continued to climb in South Africa, the debate raged on over the legality and impact of closing beaches for the holidays. Public beaches in KwaZulu-natal, the Garden Route and the Eastern Cape were closed on December 16, following an announcement in Ramaphosa’s latest address to the nation.

Distressed holidaymakers are cancelling their plans as two cases head to court to challenge the validity of the ruling that beaches in the Western and Eastern Cape be closed into the New Year.

A case, brought by the DA in the Western Cape High Court, could be heard as early as Monday afternoon, with another filed by Afriforum to be heard in the North Gauteng High Court, Pretoria.

Plettenberg Bay Tourism acting chief executive Patty Butterworth said the negative impact of the Garden Route beach closure announcement had already started, with accommodation cancellations.

She believes closing the beaches does not help halt the spread of Covid-19 as there was no evidence this was where it was being spread. She said, on the contrary, banning outdoor places would send people indoors such as to malls, where there was a greater risk.

Knysna Tourism chief executive Colleen Durant said: “After the president's announcement on Monday evening we saw online cancellations to the value of around R4m.

’’She said the closures would have a harmful impact on surrounding businesses and there is very little we can do about it,” she said.

Western Cape Premier Alan Winde said: “The decision to close these beaches for the entire festive season will deal a devastating blow to the region's economy, which is highly reliant on tourism for survival.”

Pretoria News

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