South Africa

'It was beyond our control': Ramaphosa defends vaccines delay in heated parly debate

'We are not the only country that has been shortchanged when it comes to vaccines,' President Cyril Ramaphosa tells MP during Q&A session

President Cyril Ramaphosa defended the government's response on vaccines and said the delay caused in the rollout of the J&J vaccine was unforeseen and out of its control. File photo.

President Cyril Ramaphosa defended the government's response on vaccines and said the delay caused in the rollout of the J&J vaccine was unforeseen and out of its control. File photo.
Image: GCIS

President Cyril Ramaphosa's attempt to allay fears on the country's Covid-19 vaccination plan was met with mixed reaction from MPs on Thursday.

This as he defended the delays in the procurement of vaccines, saying the government could not entirely be held accountable for the mishaps.

“We are not the only country that has been shortchanged when it comes to vaccines. We stored a lot of reliance on Johnson & Johnson [J&J], and the mishaps that we have suffered have been completely out of our hands.

“The deaths of six people in the US that got our own authority to say stop the vaccination process was completely unforeseen. There are some people who say well, we should have just forged ahead, it didn’t really matter. But we have tended to listen to our experts [and] scientists, and take advice from them,” he said. 

The president was virtually responding to questions posed by MPs in the National Assembly. He admitted that the country had faced various challenges in the bid to achieve population immunity.

However, he said significant progress had also been made after the procurement of more than 50 million doses expected to be secured before the end of the year.

“We have now finalised the contracts for sufficient doses to vaccinate 41.5 million people. The estimated times for the delivery of vaccines depends on several factors, many of which are beyond our control.

“The contractual delivery schedules as per the information shared by manufacturers is as follows:  In quarter two of 2021, we are scheduled to receive: three million J&J doses, 4.5 million Pfizer doses from our contract with Pfizer, 1.4 million Pfizer doses through the Covax facility. 

“In quarter three, we are scheduled to receive 9.1 million J&J doses, 8.5 million Pfizer doses. In quarter four, we are scheduled to receive 19.1 million J&J doses and seven million Pfizer doses,” he said.

Opposition MPs from the DA, EFF and IFP expressed dissatisfaction at Ramaphosa's responses.

The EFF's Floyd Shivambu said the government's plan “does not make any sense” and questioned why a contingency budget was not put in place.

He said the country, “in our estimation”, needed at least R50bn to vaccinate enough people to achieve herd immunity.

“But the National Treasury has only allocated R4.3bn for this financial year to vaccinate the entire SA. How are you going to do this?” he said.

Meanwhile, DA leader John Steenhuisen also said the “maths does not add up” and argued that it was impossible to believe anything the president had told parliament.  

Ramaphosa responded by saying the minister of finance could be invited before parliament again to discuss the financing of the vaccines. He maintained that a well co-ordinated plan was in place. 

“We have been working together with our partners and many other sectors and developed a very, very effective vaccination programme that is now going to unfold as these batches become available.

“The plan is in place, the centres are in place, the people have been trained. Transportation had been put in place to transport these doses at the right temperature and the logistics have been clearly worked out.”

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