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South Africa: Ramaphosa makes a move to end Covid ‘vaccine nationalism’

By Xolisa Phillip, in Johannesburg
Posted on Wednesday, 27 January 2021 18:26

South Africa Virus Outbreak Vaccine
Volunteer Thabisle Khlatshwayo, who received her first shot for a Covid-19 vaccine trial, gives a blood sample before receiving her second shot at a vaccine trial facility set at Soweto's Chris Sani Baragwanath Hospital outside Johannesburg, South Africa, Monday 30 Nov 2020. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

South Africa is to embark on one of the most ambitious vaccination campaigns in its history, confirmed President Cyril Ramaphosa. He is also the current chair of the African Union (AU) and is being more vocal about what he calls creeping “vaccine nationalism” on the international scene.  

South Africa has documented 1.4m positive Covid-19 cases. More than 40,000 people have died from coronavirus-related causes. That means the country on the Southern tip of Africa is shouldering the heaviest Covid-19 burden on the continent.

In December, the Ramaphosa administration took drastic action in response to a resurgence of coronavirus cases as South Africa’s second wave took hold. This included instituting an adjusted level 3 lockdown, which saw the reintroduction of an alcohol ban, beach closures and the imposition of a curfew.

While the second wave took a hold of South Africa, a new highly contagious variant also sprung up. In response to the new variant, the UK imposed a ban on all travel to South Africa. That ban was renewed on 9 January.

READ MORE South Africa/COVID-19: Ramaphosa pleads for compliance

Now “[our] country will soon receive its first consignment of Covid-19 vaccines from the Serum Institute in India, which is the world’s largest vaccine producer,” Ramaphosa wrote in his weekly newsletter on Monday 25 January.

First in line

South Africa’s beleaguered healthcare workers will be first in line to receive the vaccine, the President said as he outlined the country would adopt a three-phase approach in distributing the vaccine.

Essential workers, teachers, the elderly and those with co-morbidities will be second in line. The rest of South Africa’s adult population will receive the vaccine in the third phase.

READ MORE Covid vaccines: Russia, China, India…Who is supplying Africa?

When the consignment arrives “”[it] … will signal the start of a mass vaccination campaign that will be the most ambitious and extensive in our country’s history,” said Ramaphosa.

Ramaphosa’s administration is working with the private sector, civil society, traditional leaders, the religious sector and others on a roll-out strategy and an accompanying logistical framework, according to the South African President.

Money talks

Getting to this point was no easy task.

“Given the unprecedented global demand for vaccine doses, combined with the far greater buying power of wealthier countries, we had to engage in extensive and protracted negotiations with manufacturers to secure enough vaccines to reach South Africa’s adult population,” Ramaphosa revealed.

READ MORE Why COVID-19 vaccines pose ‘equity and social justice concerns’

In addition, details of deals with manufacturers will be released as and when negotiations are concluded and “we are released from the communications terms of the non-disclosure agreements,” said Ramaphosa.

No country left behind

During a virtual address to the World Economic Forum’s Davos Dialogues on Tuesday 26 January, Ramaphosa expressed deep concern about “vaccine nationalism”.

He warned that if this problem was not addressed, it would “endanger the recovery of all countries”. “Ending the pandemic worldwide will require greater collaboration on the roll-out of vaccines, ensuring that no country is left behind in this effort,” he added.

Ramaphosa joins a growing list of prominent African voices, including Sudanese billionaire businessman and philanthropist Mo Ibrahim, in expressing this view.

READ MORE Covid-19 vaccines in Africa: Mo Ibrahim and others lament sorry state of access

As the current AU chairperson, Ramaphosa has overseen the continental body’s Covid-19 response plan.

The plan entails technical assistance to national health systems, setting up regional collaborating hubs and sending out community healthcare workers to bolster and support testing and treatment.

Furthermore, the AU has established the Africa Medical Supplies Platform. The platform enables all AU member states to secure health supplies at preferential rates.

“We also established a Covid-19 African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team to secure and find sources of funding for sufficient vaccines for the countries of the continent,” said Ramaphosa.

The task team has, to date, secured a provisional 270m doses for African countries directly through vaccine manufacturers, according to Ramaphosa. “This is in addition to the 600m doses that are expected from the COVAX initiative.”

“Through its participation in these continental and global initiatives, South Africa continues to promote the need for universal, fair and equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines,” he concluded.

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