Government’s “slow” and “senseless” Covid-19 vaccination plan has come under a barrage of criticism from members of Parliament (MPs) during President Cyril Ramaphosa’s question and answer session on Thursday.
The president was fielding questions about, among others, the brand and quantity of the Covid-19 vaccines that government had procured thus far, the vaccine price tag, and vaccines approved by the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra).
EFF chief whip Floyd Shavambu said according to their estimate, it would cost a minimum of R50 billion to vaccinate 7% of the population, and that Treasury had allocated R4.3 billion for the entire vaccine rollout.
“The vaccine plan does not make any sense…You are saying you are going to vaccinate 41 million South Africans, when you have only allocated R4.3 billion? And do not tell us about the contingency budget because contingency budgets are allocated for things not foreseen. We have known for more than 12 months about this pandemic that requires intervention,” he charged.
Democratic Alliance (DA) leader John Steenhuisen went for the jugular and asked Ramaphosa if he was going to take responsibility for the lives already lost to Covid-19, saying the ANC was occupied by its own battles when people were dying.
He said other countries were nearly finished with their vaccination programme, while SA had yet to vaccinate a single private citizen, and only managed to vaccinate just over 300,000 healthcare workers in months.
“SA’s current ranking for Covid-19 vaccine administered is 33, not in the world but in Africa. That is after Sierra Leone, Sudan, Somalia and Zambia… Yes people are angry because you have failed them. Do you take responsibility for the life lost due to failure?” Steenhuisen asked.
But the president kept his cool, despite the EFF heckling him and casting aspersions on his legitimacy after the so-called suspension by the suspended secretary genera Ace Magashule.
Ramaphosa said the delays were as a result of protracted negotiations with manufacturers, drug availability and ensuring that contracts with manufacturers were consistent with SA laws.
He said the government would pull out all the stops to provide funding for the vaccination programme, even if it meant Finance Minister Tito Mboweni returning to Parliament to table a supplementary budget.
“We are not going to sacrifice the lives of SA in relation to this pandemic,” Ramaphosa said.
He said they had finalised a contract for the supply of 31 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccines and that, as a continent, through the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team, finalised an agreement for a 220-million doses for the rest of the continent.
He said from Pfizer they had an agreement for 20 million doses, with additional allocation from Covax of nearly 1.4 million Pfizer doses that arrived this week.
“Negotiations with manufacturers were protracted, we also have to ensure terms of contracts were consistent with our laws and not detrimental to the national interest. We also had to set up a no-fault compensation scheme through which those who experience severe adverse results following vaccination can claim damages.
“We have finalised contracts for sufficient doses to vaccinate 41.1 million. The estimated times for the delivery of the vaccines depend on several factors, many of which are beyond our control,” Ramaphosa added.
Vaccine Delivery Schedule:
- Second quarter (2021): Three million J&J doses, 4.5 million Pfizer doses, and 1.4 million Pfizer doses through the Covax facility.
- Third quarter: 9.1 million J&J doses, 8.5 million Pfizer doses.
- Fourth quarter: 19.9 million J&J doses and seven million Pfizer doses.
In total, SA will receive 31.2 million J&J doses and 21.4 million Pfizer doses, including form Covax facility.