With South Africa firmly in the grips of the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, Deputy President David Mabuza says the government is steaming ahead with the rollout of its vaccination programme.
Mabuza on Tuesday admitted the vaccination programme had faced several snags in its rollout, but said negotiations with manufacturers of Russia’s Sputnik V and China’s Sinovac vaccines were at an advanced stage.
“Notwithstanding these challenges, we are forging ahead and the vaccination acquisition and distribution to provinces has also improved. Hence we are witnessing a rise in the numbers of those being vaccinated,” Mabuza said.
He was responding to questions from delegates of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) during a virtual plenary sitting.
Mabuza, chair of the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) on Covid-19 vaccines, said the government was also looking to procure additional vaccine doses through the UN’s Covax facility.
“We’re also enhancing local manufacturing capability through collaboration with the other partners within Brics, which will enable us to overcome the pandemic and respond to future health emergencies,” he said.
South Africa has suffered several setbacks in its Covid-19 vaccination rollout with opposition parties criticising the government for not procuring vaccines much earlier.
The problems first began with the halt of 1 million Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines after clinical trial results showed it was not effective against the 501Y.V2 variant in South Africa.
There were also concerns that the vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India could soon reach its expiry date.
President Cyril Ramaphosa confirmed on Sunday at the G7 Leaders’ Summit in Cornwall, England 2 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine at the Aspen Pharma plant in Gqeberha, Eastern Cape would be discarded.
This was due to suspicions that a core component of the vaccine was contaminated at a US factory in Baltimore.
Mabuza said the government hoped the challenges related to vaccines would no longer impact on its rollout programme.
“We hope these are temporary setbacks and we are going to get out of this. We are steaming ahead so that finally we can reach herd immunity. We want to get out of this problem of Covid-19 and we think it’s only through vaccination,” he said.
Aspen announced on Monday it would release a new batch of the J&J vaccine within a week to bolster the country’s vaccination drive.
These vaccines have been earmarked for teachers across the country. South Africa has been vaccinating citizens 60 years and older using the double dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
On the country’s Covid-19 lockdown measures, Mabuza said the government was considering increasing the regulations with a view to saving lives and livelihoods.
South Africa is under lockdown level 2 and there have been calls for the government to further tighten restrictions amid the third wave of infections.
“Mindful of the fatigue, our people are tired of all these measures but it’s no time to get tired. We need to insist and persist so that we can save lives and in the process try and save livelihoods.”
The deputy president urged the public to adhere to non‑pharmacological interventions like avoiding large gatherings, wearing masks, social distancing and sanitising or washing hands.
“We are trying very hard so that we can other vaccines to speed up the process of vaccinating our people,” he said.
DA proposes Parly inquiry into vaccines
On Tuesday the DA called for the establishment of a parliamentary ad hoc committee to conduct a full inquiry into the government’s handling of the Covid-19 vaccine programme in its entirety.
The official opposition party said it had written to National Assembly Speaker Thandi Modise requesting the establishment of this committee.
“We propose that this multiparty ad hoc committee should have broad terms of reference to allow for as comprehensive an inquiry as possible. Specifically, this committee should conduct an inquiry into all matters related to the government’s failure to timeously acquire and secure an adequate supply of Covid-19 vaccines for the South African public,” the DA said in a statement.
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