Halting of vaccine rollout spells disaster for healthcare workers and most vulnerable 

 Please find attached soundbite by Siviwe Gwarube MP.

The DA is opposed to the decision and subsequent announcement made by the Health Minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize, to halt the rollout of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine to the remaining healthcare workers who are yet to be vaccinated two months into the trial phase.

The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) is said to be investigating adverse effects that can be attributed to the use of the J&J vaccine. This investigation needs to be concluded speedily in order for South Africa to resume and significantly ramp up the rollout of this life-saving vaccine which has been an unmitigated disaster thus far.

The statistical significance of 6 people out of close to 7 million who have had adverse effects in the United States pales in comparison to the devastating impact a possible third wave of Covid-19 infections could have. Leading academics and experts – who must absolutely lead the decision-making on this – have not been in support of government’s decision in this regard.

It then begs the question why such a drastic step has been taken.

Is it simply because government is shielding its own poor performance on the vaccine rollout so far?

In addition, this kind of ‘stop-start’ approach could be incredibly damaging to the public perception of vaccination when the risks seem almost negligible statistically and scientifically.

It makes little sense to copy countries like the United States where the context is very different. The United States has the luxury of being able to temporarily suspend administration of the J&J vaccine because they have already vaccinated millions of their citizens and have various vaccines in circulation. Halting the administering of one vaccine does not impact them as much as it could impact South Africa, since we currently only have tiny quantities of this single vaccine available to us.

The South African government has failed spectacularly thus far to procure a variety of vaccines in bulk, to reach the 1.2 million healthcare workers targeted, to produce a general rollout plan, and to move beyond the trial phase of the vaccine rollout.

The rollout has been criminally slow.

The only rational approach to vaccine administration is a cost-benefit analysis of the risks South Africa faces. Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on our country – costing thousands of lives and millions of livelihoods. The risk of adverse effects is negligible when compared to the risks associated with a possible 3rd wave of C0vid-19 infections.

We call on the Minister and SAHPRA to conclude these deliberations and assure South Africans that this is not merely a scapegoating exercise to shield government from accountability.

We need to get to the business of saving lives and livelihoods by launching a real vaccine rollout programme.

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