South Africa’s Ramaphosa Strikes Back at Critics Over Steps to Secure Vaccines

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South African President Cyril Ramaphosa defended the government’s approach to secure Covid-19 vaccines, saying it had acted as swiftly as possible in the face of extensive negotiations to get sufficient doses.

Medical professionals, scientists and labor unions have criticized the administration’s poor planning and said its haphazard process and a lack of transparency led to unnecessary delays and cost lives. The country has confirmed about 1.4 million infections so far, the most in Africa, and deaths have exceeded 40,000 amid a resurgence of the coronavirus.

“Given the unprecedented global demand for vaccine doses, combined with the far greater buying power of wealthier countries, we had to engage in extensive and protracted negotiations with manufacturers to secure enough vaccines,” Ramaphosa said in his weekly newsletter published on the Presidency’s website.

Earlier this month, the president announced a deal with the Serum Institute of India Ltd. that will enable 750,000 health workers to get the AstraZeneca Plc vaccines by the end of February. As was the case with this agreement “the details of deals with manufacturers will be released as and when negotiations are concluded and we are released from the communications terms of the non-disclosure agreements,” Ramaphosa said.

Read: Where Are Our Coronavirus Vaccines? South Africans Ask

The first vaccines would be provided to health-care workers, he said. The second phase of the vaccine rollout would target essential workers, teachers, the elderly and people with co-morbidities, and the third phase will include other adults in the population.

“A comprehensive rollout strategy and an accompanying logistical framework will be implemented in partnership with the private sector, civil society, traditional leadership, the religious sector and others,” Ramaphosa said. “It is vital that this is a society-wide campaign, in which everyone is involved and no one is left behind.”

The opposition Democratic Alliance said Monday it would proceed with legal action against the government if it hadn’t published publicly “a detailed, costed and practical vaccine acquisition plan by day end.”

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