Government must be held accountable for all lives lost due to vaccine delays.

The DA has called for a full parliamentary inquiry into the government’s handling of the Covid-19 vaccine programme. And we’ve called for budgeted funds to be released to allow for vaccinations to proceed at full pace seven days a week.

A full 15 months into the pandemic less than 1% of South Africans have been fully vaccinated. That’s fewer than 500 000 people out of a population of 60 million who are fully protected. A further 2.7% have received a first dose and await a second.

We are lagging far behind not just our upper-middle-income peer countries but also lower-middle-income and many poor countries including Zimbabwe and Namibia.

Thousands of South Africans are dying avoidable deaths and yet our vaccination programme is only running five days a week because we “can’t afford to pay overtime”.

Vaccine delays cost lives. Every South African should be outraged at government’s approach to vaccines, which has been secretive, slow, disorganized and deadly.

Thousands of mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grannies and grandpas are gone today who should still be alive. Thousands of high-risk patients who should have been vaccinated in March with the AstraZeneca vaccines we had are instead fighting for their lives, some of them in chairs while they wait for hospital beds to come available. Thousands more will die avoidable deaths in the coming weeks as the third wave crisis gathers fatal momentum.

This unfolding human tragedy is self-inflicted. The Ramaphosa administration is entirely to blame. Yes, we’ve had setbacks. But setbacks happen. They should be planned for and buffered against.

South Africa should have placed early bulk vaccine orders with a wide variety of suppliers, to ensure sufficient supply. We should have chosen to use the one million AstraZeneca vaccines we received in February to protect the high-risk group as per scientific and WHO advice, rather than sell them. We should have planned our vaccine rollout programme months in advance of delivery. We should be vaccinating at full speed seven days a week. The private sector and competent provinces should have been allowed to procure their own vaccines.

Instead, the Ramaphosa administration has botched the vaccine programme from beginning to end. They twice failed to pay the Covax deposits timeously. They failed to contact vaccine suppliers last year when peer countries were getting in the queue. They failed to respond to suppliers when suppliers contacted them. They failed to roll out the AstraZeneca vaccines that were the only ones available to us back in March. They failed to plan an efficient rollout. They’ve failed to release budget for a seven-day per week programme. They’ve failed to communicate clearly. And they’ve failed to admit to any of their failures.

The only logical explanation is that they just don’t value South African lives. The only things they have consistently delivered on are excuses, corruption, and a resolute determination to keep full centralized control over the process even as they sleep at the wheel.

Notwithstanding these vaccine failures, had government built healthcare capacity and released sufficient budget, we would have been able to accommodate all those in need of medical assistance.

But they didn’t. The current shambolic situation in Gauteng has prompted one scientist to ask if there is anyone in the Gauteng department of health. Covid facilities that cost South Africans millions are non-operational because of staff shortages.

The 1000-bed Charlotte Maxeke Hospital in Johannesburg is still inexplicably closed over two months after a fire broke out there. Politicians can wheel out excuses, but where there’s a will there’s a way. The 850-bed CTICC Hospital of Hope in Cape Town started admitting patients just one month after work on the site began.

The DA-run Western Cape is the only province which has successfully built healthcare capacity to be able to accommodate all in need.

And so now South Africa faces the prospect of economic restrictions, which have already been shown to do more harm than good. But they’ll be implemented anyway because they give the illusion that government is doing something.

And so thousands of families will go hungry as thousands of businesses and jobs disappear. All of this avoidable suffering.

Of course, none of the individuals tasked with rolling out an efficient vaccine programme and none of those deciding which parts of the economy to shut down face losing their own lives or livelihoods.

They remain on full salary no matter what, and most of them have probably been vaccinated. None of them will need to face their hungry families and explain why they can’t put food on the table. Even Zweli Mkhize who benefitted from the Digital Vibes scam is assured a full salary at the end of the month.

There must be consequences.

The government must be held accountable for all lives lost avoidably due to vaccine delays. The local government election on 27 October 2021 is your chance to punish the ANC and to vote for the DA, the only party with a proven track record of getting things done in government to save lives.