Wednesday, October 20, 2021
HomeNews ReleaseDA: Parliamentary inquiry proposed into vaccine programme delays

DA: Parliamentary inquiry proposed into vaccine programme delays

The DA proposes the establishment of a parliamentary ad hoc committee to conduct a full inquiry into the government’s handling of its Covid-19 vaccine programme in its entirety.

We have written to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Ms Thandi Modise, to request the establishment of this ad hoc committee in terms of Rule 253(1)(b) of the Rules of the National Assembly.

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.

South Africans have good reason to feel real angry and let down, because of the government’s now-obvious failure to acquire and secure an adequate supply of vaccines early enough to protect lives.

As the third wave of infections gains fatal momentum, tens of millions of South Africans are waiting fearfully for their vaccine. But the government’s vaccine programme is still making dangerously slow progress, putting many lives at risk.

The consequences of this failure will be the needless loss of so many loved ones, and the stress and isolation of trying to avoid infection until vaccines arrive.

While we all celebrate seeing the pictures of vaccines being administered to some senior citizens, and hearing how one or two of our own elderly family members have received their first jabs, this does not make up for the failures of the vaccine programme thus far. The fact is, there are far too few vaccines available, those that we do have are late, and are being too slowly rolled out to stop this pandemic.

There must be full and frank accountability for this failure. South Africans want to know – and have a right to know – what happened, how we got here, and who is responsible. This is the essential work of Parliament, and it cannot shrink from that responsibility now.

There is clear precedent for Parliament to establish ad hoc committees of this nature. In 2018, Parliament conducted an inquiry into ‘allegations of governance failures and state capture at Eskom’. This report has formed critical work that was handed over to the Zondo Commission in its investigation into State Capture in South Africa.

Additionally, during the testimonies by the current and previous Speakers of the National Assembly, it became clear that Parliament neglected its constitutional obligation of holding the Executive to account and in effect aided and abetted State Capture through its inaction.

Government made two crucial mistakes right from the beginning. The first was the initial decision to exclusively pursue vaccine access through the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (Covax) facility and the second mistake was the failure to not timeously engage in direct bilateral agreements with manufacturers through an advanced market commitment mechanism. Many other middle-income countries did this as soon as vaccines went into phase two and three trials.

The writing was on the wall in late 2020 already when it emerged that the South African government missed the deadline (9 October 2020) for a first payment towards the Covax programme. When the DA questioned Finance Minister Tito Mboweni in Parliament on 4 December about missing the deadline, he denied this. Less than two weeks later, and it turned out that South Africa also missed the second deadline on 15 December. To date, we have not received a single Covax vaccine.

Following this, government communication on vaccines became increasingly opaque and dishonest. President Cyril Ramaphosa’s claim that his government had been negotiating with suppliers for six months had been exposed as misleading, not only by the vaccine manufacturers themselves but also by a letter dated 7 January in which the Department of Health applied to the National Treasury for deviation from the normal procurement processes for the acquisition of the vaccine. This also proved that the government was now scrambling to gain access to a vaccine.

Both the President and Minister Zweli Mkhize have attempted to spin this failure away, with the former blaming other countries for buying up all available vaccines. The truth is of course that South Africa never even joined the queue to access the vaccine in the first place.

Had it not been for the Sisonke Covid-19 Trial, not a single South African would have been vaccinated until the rollout kicked off on 17 May 2021.

Before this date, only 479 768 South Africans – mainly healthcare workers – had been vaccinated.

Given that 40 million South Africans need to be vaccinated, the first 6 months of the government’s vaccine programme cannot possibly described as a success.

There must be full accountability for what led to this failure, and who is responsible for it.

As phase 2 approached, the Electronic Vaccination Data System to register the elderly for vaccination became riddled with problems. Many citizens over 60 still have not registered because they do not have access to the system, or they have tried to register but are unsure of when and where they should go for vaccinations because they never received confirmation of registration. Not to mention teachers who have yet to see a concrete plan for their vaccinations.

South Africa is still one of the top 30 lowest vaccinating countries in Africa, with a mere 2.73 vaccinations per 100 people. Our neighbouring countries such as Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and Eswatini are vaccinating at a much faster rate.

The need for a full parliamentary probe into the government’s poorly planned and, thus far, poorly executed vaccine programme is therefore not only urgent but in the public interest. The failure by the ANC government to organise an efficient and effective rollout cannot be ignored. Those who have played a role in this gross failure of the South African people must be held to account and Parliament has a duty to investigate.

The Speaker is empowered to establish an inquiry of this nature and to ensure that Parliament doesn’t neglect its constitutional obligations in a moment of a national crisis once again.

Statement issued by Siviwe Gwarube MP, DA Shadow Minister of Health, & Geordin Hill-Lewis MP, DA Shadow Minister of Finance, 15 June 2021

***

Press briefing for Parliamentary Inquiry into Vaccine Rollout.

Last week, South Africa officially entered the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. These outbreaks can only be blamed on government’s failure to procure the necessary vaccines on time, and its further failure to ensure a speedy and comprehensive vaccine roll-out programme.

Government clearly does not have a hand on the Covid-19 pandemic, and this undifferentiated approach is a clear example of its ineptitude.

It is common cause that the urgent roll-out of an effective vaccine programme is the only credible alternative to repeated lockdowns that costs our economy billions and destroys lives as well as livelihoods.

The government’s original vaccination plan launched on 5 February 2021 was replete with maps and flow diagrams. It said there would be a phased roll out starting with healthcare workers, and then open up to include those with co-morbidities, frontline workers (such as teachers and police officers) and the elderly. The sophisticated document gave the impression that the Government’s planners were on top of things and the prospect of vaccinating the country seemed real.

However as the past few months have shown government’s roll out plan has been slow to start and even the current acceleration leaves the country far behind where it should be.

This is why today, the DA, calls on for a parliamentary inquiry into the Government’s handling of its Covid-19 vaccine rollout in light of the fact that it has been marred by so many obstacles and failures, and that it is highly unlikely that the country will achieve any form of population immunity in the near future.

The DA will write to the Speaker of the National Assembly, the Honourable Modise, to request that she establish an ad hoc committee to conduct an inquiry into the Government’s handling of its Covid-19 vaccine rollout.

It is clear South Africa does not have the vaccine supply it needs. Although Africa has been at the back of the queue for vaccine delivery, South Africa only has itself to blame for its slow and sluggish vaccine rollout.

By the end of May, only 2.5 vaccines had been delivered per 100 people on the continent of Africa. Yet South Africa has performed poorly even within the African context. Whereas South Africa has delivered only 2.99 vaccines per 100 people, neighbouring countries like Botswana and Zimbabwe have delivered more with 6.38 and 7.45 doses per 100 people, respectively.

Additionally, South Africa is performing poorly against other emerging market countries with Hungary vaccinating 97.56 doses per 100 people and Brazil 36.76 doses per 100 people.

South Africa's first official procurement deal was struck with the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (Covax) programme nearly half a year ago, in December 2020. In December 2020 is was report that South Africa missed the deadline for a first payment (of 9 October 2020) towards Covax. When the DA questioned Tito Mboweni in Parliament on 4 December about missing the first deadline (of October 9), the Minister responded angrily. He insisted that we didn’t have the facts, that no deadline had been missed, and that we were misleading the public.

Less than two weeks later, and it turns out the opposite is true.

South Africa had missed the second deadline for payment (15 December) and more obfuscation from government followed.

Government made two crucial mistakes over the past year. The first was government’s decision to pursue – exclusively – vaccine access through the COVAX facility. The second mistake is that government compounded the problem by not timeously engaging in bilateral agreements directly with manufacturers through an advanced market commitment mechanism. Many other countries, including middle income countries, did this as soon as vaccines went into phase two and three trials.

It’s only after the public uproar that government appears to have been activated to engage in substantive bilateral discussions. The problem is that it’s too little too late. Many of the vaccines, which have been authorised for use in North America and Europe, to be produced over the next 6 months are already earmarked to other countries that made prior commitments.

Eventually, South Africa paid Covax R280 million 5 months ago – and to date hasn't received a single vaccine dose yet.

Trying to spin its way out of the scandal through lies and deflection, President Ramaphosa blamed other countries for buying up all available vaccines. The truth is other countries bought those vaccines and South Africa didn’t, simply because South Africa was never in the queue.

President Ramaphosa’s claim that his government had been negotiating with suppliers for the past six months has also been exposed as a lie, not only by the vaccine manufacturers themselves, but also by the date on which the Department of Health applied to Treasury for deviation from the normal procurement processes for the acquisition of the vaccine. According to a letter from Treasury, this application was only made on 7 January this year. This reveals the date on which they finally woke up to the crisis and started scrambling for whatever vaccine leftovers they could find.

The blame for our botched vaccine programme lies squarely with the ANC government, and President Ramaphosa in particular. And the people of South Africa are the victims of the government’s s failures.

After public uproar and continues pressure from the DA (through a High Court application), government eventually secured a deal in January to buy the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from the Serum Institute of India, paying more than double the amount charged to the European Union.

Then in February a study in South Africa involving some 2,000 people found that the vaccine offered "minimal protection" against mild and moderate cases of the coronavirus variant that is most common in the country.

As a result, the vaccine programme was put on hold, and government sold its one million doses to the African Union. This however, as experts will confirm, was a grave mistake by government and one that has set South Africa back by several months in terms of its vaccination rollout.

The first phase of South Africa’s rollout was rescued only through the efforts of Prof Glenda Gray (the head of the South African Medical Research Council) to secure surplus Johnson and Johnson (J&J) vaccines from trials in the United States (US) and Europe. Without this intervention it is unclear when Phase 1 of the vaccine rollout would have commenced.

The second phase, now fully in the hands of the government, is offering Pfizer vaccines to persons over 60 years-old. The second vaccine rollout faces two major challenges: getting the vaccines we already have into the arms of the people who need them urgently and ensuring that deliveries of vaccines continue to grow.

There is a worrying lack of clarity about Pfizer deliveries in July. The government announced in April that Pfizer has been contracted to deliver 16.5 million doses in the third quarter (July- September), i.e. an average of more than 1 million doses per week. A further 17 million doses are expected from Pfizer by the end of the year. But the delivery dates are not set in stone.

The other shock to South Africa’s vaccine supply is, of course, from Johnson and Johnson. US regulators over the past few days declared 60 million doses of this vaccine unusable. Some vaccine batches have been cleared, and the Department of Health announced on Friday that South Africa will be receiving 300,000 doses “as a matter of extreme urgency” from that cleared supply. This is a tenth of what South Africa expected to be delivered from Johnson & Johnson in the second quarter. The marks a further setback in the country’s vaccine roll-out just as a third wave of infections is gathering pace.

With new infections rising fast, we need to redouble the effort to vaccinate as many people as possible. Poorly functioning and overly controlling bureaucratic systems must not stand in the way of saving lives. We are at a crucial time where government is expected to acquire and roll out an effective vaccine rollout programme. The process until now has been marred with challenges – some beyond government’s control but some due to its own making. .

It is the DA’s considered view that it is in the interest of accountability and transparency that the National Assembly urgently conducts an inquiry into the government’s handling of its Covid-19 vaccine rollout.

The establishment of an ad hoc committee will ensure that deadlines are met and the process is corruption free. We submit that through an ad hoc committee parliament will be able to summon the executive, issue deadlines, perform oversight, hold them to deadlines and ensure that the task are executed as efficiently as possible.

Only a proper vaccine rollout programme will put an end to the continuous upsurge in Covid- 19 cases in South Africa. Failure to do so is condemning South Africans to further devastation and economic ruin.

South Africans deserve an efficient and transparent vaccine rollout and DA believes that a parliamentary inquiry into the government’s vaccine rollout plan is accordingly necessary and urgent.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Receive Medical Brief's free weekly e-newsletter.

* indicates required