President Cyril Ramaphosa has admitted that South Africa has “lost a bit of time” in its COVID-19 vaccine rollout, but maintained it is still on target.
Ramaphosa was speaking during a visit to the Aspen Pharmacare sterile manufacturing facility in Gqeberha, Eastern Cape, on Monday.
‘Government isn’t failing’
He said, “We’ve lost a bit of time, but we [are] still on target in terms of our phase and we’re now going to speed up the whole process of getting these. So, losing [time] doesn’t mean in my book that government is failing.”
The government has come under criticism in recent days for its “slow” vaccine rollout programme. However, Ramaphosa attributed this to vaccine availability challenges across the world.
“There is a great competition around the world about acquiring vaccines and we’re focused more to say, we’ve got to acquire vaccines as quickly as possible so that we can save our people’s lives,” he explained.
“You will remember that we acquired vaccines initially from India and through scientific processes, we found that they were not efficient for the variant that we have. We then had to source other vaccines.”
The President cited Europe and Japan as some of the “developed” regions facing similar challenges of vaccine availability and slow rollout.
“We haven’t been sleeping on the job. The Minister and the Deputy President don’t sleep, making sure that we work very hard to get those vaccines,” he reiterated.
“We need to look at the issue of availability and look at the efforts we are now embarking upon and making. Part of the reason why we have come here is to ensure that we speed up the process of the availability of our vaccines.”
30 million Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses
Ramaphosa, who was accompanied by Deputy President David Mabuza and Ministers Zweli Mkhize and Khumudzo Ntshavheni, confirmed that South Africa had secured 30 million Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses.
The vaccines are being produced at the Aspen Pharmacare sterile manufacturing facility in Gqeberha. Aspen will also export 220 million doses to the rest of Africa.
“As you well know, we’ve got a multi-supplier system of acquiring vaccines. Johnson & Johnson is one of those that we’re buying vaccines from and there are a number of others,” Ramaphosa said.
According to its vaccine rollout programme, the government aims to start phase 2, which will target 13.3 million vulnerable individuals and essential workers, in May until October.
Phase 1, which is targeting 1.5 million healthcare workers, started in February and is set to end in April. More than 200,000 healthcare workers have been vaccinated so far.
Phase 3 will begin in November 2021 and end in February 2022, targeting the rest of South Africa’s population.