EDITORIAL

Covid-19 vaccine: Government failed and people of South Africa are victims 

Abstract banner design with abstract virus cells, covid 19

The pandemic that has engulfed the world including South Africa creates unprecedented obligations for government. Our government did not meet those obligations. The latest example is the bumbling management of the Covid-19 vaccine non-delivery.

In this country, there are two specific duties that the Constitution imposes upon our government: the duty of accountability to those who live here and the duty to vindicate the right of everyone to have access to health care services. This is qualified by the provision that the State must take reasonable legislative and other measures within its available resources to achieve the progressive realisation of the right.

Regrettably, the government appears to have failed to fulfil both these obligations. It is astounding that President Cyril Ramaphosa has not held one proper press conference in which the press can ask questions about government’s Covid-19 policy. Remember that these questions are asked on behalf of an anxious nation. Even Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, neither of whom have a scintilla of Mr Ramaphosa’s democratic pedigree, have conducted multiple press conferences on their governments’ Covid-19 policies.

The public has a right to be informed, for example, of the steps been taken to roll out a vaccine, the widespread distribution of which is critical to any viable recovery of the economy, let alone the prevention of unnecessary deaths. An accountable government does not only employ media set pieces; it allows the public through the media, to ask a host of questions on issues that affect their lives. It needs to tell the country how it proposes to progressively realise the right of access to life-saving vaccines.

We at the Daily Maverick have tried to interview members of the Ministerial Advisory Committee. Prof Salim Abdool Karim has responded that he is on holiday (fair enough). From the co-chair Prof Marian Jacobs we have not received the courtesy of a reply. We wish to ask one of them some serious questions about vaccine policy, about which the public is entitled to direct and specific answers. As members of a body that serves the public, it is the least they should do.

And that brings us to the right to access to health services. The narrative told to the public continues to change. At one point the nation was told that Johnson & Johnson would manufacture millions of doses of the vaccine in South Africa. Then the story is changed to some vaccines will be available by the end of the first quarter of 2021, and most recently by the end of the second quarter. Reports have suggested that only 3% of the population will receive the vaccine from Covax facility before the mid-2021. Yesterday, the New York Times reported that Johnson & Johnson will produce significant quantities of the vaccine in South Africa but only for export. Then we are also told that government is negotiating with some of the pharmaceutical companies. But that is all we seem to be entitled to know.

This is simply not good enough. Given its constitutional obligations, the government is required to tell the country what plan it has developed to progressively realise the right to health.

At the very least there should be answers to the following:

  • How many people does the government plan to vaccinate by the end of June 2021 and again by the end of the year?

  • How will this number of vaccines be acquired?

  • How are vaccines sourced?

  • What is the role of the private sector? (For example, will the medical aid schemes be entitled to purchase vaccines directly from vaccine manufacturers?)

  • What distribution systems have been put in place to ensure an efficient and equitable distribution?

In a constitutional democracy such as ours, the principle of accountability and the right of access to health particularly for those most in need impose duties upon government. Or was nothing learnt from the nevirapine litigation brought by the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC)?

In the context of the present crisis, it is about time that the government treats the entire country with respect. That means informing all of us as to how we can move out of the present horror for so many by ensuring programme of widespread and safe vaccination. As citizens, there may be commercial details to which we are not entitled.  But the present position where confusion and indeed despair reign is disgraceful, albeit not entirely unexpected. DM

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All Comments 21

  • Has it occurred to anybody that perhaps, just perhaps, the government doesn’t really want to roll out a vaccine?

    After all, if a significant proportion of the population is vaccinated, and the infections drop to a tiny fraction of the present rate, there will be no justification for a continuing State of Disaster. That would truly be a disaster, for the government.

    No more rule by decree. No more COVID relief funds.

    Horror of horrors, the people might no longer be terrified enough to voluntarily surrender their basic human rights! There might actually be real questions in parliament! Even worse, COVID would disappear from the headlines, and all kinds of other skeletons would emerge.

    Why, indeed, would the government want a universal vaccination programme?

      • Fully agree with you Pierre. Paddy, facts as defined by a court is perhaps true, but really we all know that. Like the ANC (Politburu) continuous saying that their comrades involved in corruption, theft, and even murder, are innocent until proven guilty. Then they go out, cut the budgets of the NPA, so that effectively those guilty comrades won’t be prosecuted. And the fraud, corruption, theft, and the denying of basic human rights of its citizens will continue. Just give me one example of those involved in corruption of PPI equipment has been jailed, after nine months. This party, communists as they are, have zero emphathy for its people. Everything is about the well being of its member comrades. How can you yet again bail out SAA at this time R16billion, but don’t have money to improve health services significantly, including significant investment in a vaccine. The handling of the coronavirus might be applauded by some, but to me it was sick to the extreme, following the banning of tobacco, the treatment (and killing) of innocent citizens by the police/army. South Africa is now in the era of party dictatorship, where the party makes decisions, not parlement.

    • “Has it occurred to anybody that perhaps, just perhaps, the government doesn’t really want to roll out a vaccine?”
      No. Not to me. There are enough reasons to lambast the government (corruption, incompetence and incapacity to start) without introducing spurious theories which weaken a clear message

  • Given the many years of anc-sanctioned denial, obfuscation and being dragged to court by the T.A.C. during the Mbeki years over HIV-AIDS treatment, their propensity to royally stuff this up is practically a given. Doubtless there will now be repeated denials, contradictory statements, finger-pointing, buck-passing and back-tracking while people continue to die needlessly.

    There could be no clearer barometer of the contempt in which government holds the populace.

  • DM – Right! So why trash the democratic opposition so much for really trivial stuff?! A stronger opposition would apply more pressure on the intransigent ANC. Please People, vote for the opposition and make things difficult for the gutless ANC. An item was published about a DA member who tweeted that SHE WAS ENJOYING SOME LEAVE. The news service (not DM) went ballistic!. No mention is made when Prof Salim Abdool Karim goes on leave. That was an example of judging the DA by higher standards than the governing party! DM is guilty of this as well with their well known snide remarks aimed at the DA. We will only get the strong opposition party if YOU vote for it. If YOU do not vote for a strong opposition party the ANC will rule till the cows come home, per kind favour of YOU!

  • Has anything good ever come out of Africa?? Africa is not only willing it is not able to! Show me a really successful African country and if there is one,
    it’s a fluke for a very short period!

  • Until we elect our president directly ANC leaders will be allowed to hide behind “the collective” argument and never allow themselves to be held to account. We need to stop whinging about the ANC and start fighting to change the systemic issue, if the opposition is ever elected no doubt they’d land up doing the same.

  • Nothing shows that money is the bottom line in healthcare than the inequity of vaccination rollout.
    Poor people’s lives are really cheaper than rich people’s.
    I believe all the poor countries are trying their best with the help of WHO, but the bottom line is that its each country for themselves in this.
    None of your comments are about the inequality of the roll out to all of Africa..just South Africa.
    Tough luck to ‘shithole countries’.

    The BLM movement should take up this issue. It’s not just about American black lives.
    Healthcare workers around the world should be first in line.

    • Maybe if people in shithole countries and one party democracies stop voting in Parties for based on unproven track records (or actually proven track records of corruption), its time they learn what the consequences are. In crises times like this, why complain about the “rich” countries standing in front of the queue. They worked for it, earned it over decades with investments, science and proper democratic systems where idiots like Trump get voted out of they don’t do what they were supposed to. SA was also a “rich” country once and could also have been in the forefront of developing and producing their own vaccines. But ANC and its Cader deployment, BEE, communist policies etc have managed to bancrupt a rich and advanced country and turn it into a shithole (one thing DT had right). So now, SA stands in the beggers queue. A reward for not thinking (or actually understanding) the impact if you swop your vote for a T Shirt and a food parcel. May God have mercy on South Africa and lead us out of this corrupt sinkhole that we are in.

      • Spot on…………the rampant corruption, blatant mismanagement and incompetence, self serving party interests and much much more lays at the feet of the African rulers and South Africa – they only have themselves to blame. The western world has probably reached a point, at least on this one, that enough is enough and Africa only has itself to blame!

  • Just a correction … I do not think j&j, or any pharmaceutical company in SA can manufacture any vaccine. J&J can fill vials from imported vaccines. This is not to underestimate the importance of this job.

  • They have messed up everything ( except symphoning public money) since 1994 so why the surprise? Cyril is too worried about a veneer of unity amongst thieves, to worry about his “fellow South Africans”.

  • “Even Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, neither of whom have a scintilla of Mr Ramaphosa’s democratic pedigree …”.

    Really?? Why on earth do you continue to treat Trump & Johnson as if they are the same person?? BJ has won a number of elections, both as an MP & the Mayor of London by submitting himself to the democratic process & clearly & unambiguously supports it. The ultimate proof, of course, was that he ensured that the democratic will of the people was implemented as fully as possible, in the circumstances he inherited as PM, over Brexit. I get that you don’t like him but to conflate two politicians just because you don’t like their policies is daft & reprehensible because it smells like indoctrination. On the other hand, Ramaphosa is president of a ruling party that pays lip service to democracy, clearly places itself over the people of the country & needs constant managing to the degree that party business & issues take precedence over absolutely everythinging else, including ordering a vaccine or two which would clearly save lives.

  • The government will need to raise money to bring vaccines into the country. Could it be that earlier funders have seen what happened to the last funding and might just be holding back?
    Also – suddenly China announces that they too have a vaccine. No further information was given in terms of doses, efficacy, testing protocols, but then – that’s what we can expect from China. So, my guess is that the government is going to negotiate with China for their vaccine – at a cost to be determined by China.
    Of course this is all speculation – but then – what else can one do when the government does not release any information and refuses to hold life press briefings.