The growing unease at the lack of progress in the vaccine rollout was somewhat eased by this week’s announcement that Johnson & Johnson will produce 30-million vaccines for the country. It’s news that we desperately need as we brace for a possible third wave in the Covid-19 pandemic as we enter our colder months.
While we welcome the breakthrough in what are proving difficult talks with a stretched global pharmaceutical industry, we now need much greater detail on just how we reach the target of vaccinating 40-million South Africans by the end of the year.
Following guidance from the scientific community, the government fell behind on its plans for the original rollout after scrapping plans to use the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccines, whose efficacy has been challenged across the globe. The delay, while understandable, raised concern about government’s ability to vaccinate 67% of the population.
Understanding the apprehension on the vaccine rollout, President Cyril Ramaphosa this week said: “We are going to catch up on lost time, momentum is going to pick up, and we should be able to meet the targets we have spoken about. This is the beginning of a new era and phase of the rollout of the vaccines and the saving of our people.”
The production of J&J’s 30-million vaccines comes on top of a deal to source 20-million Pfizer vaccines. The developments on the procurement are indeed encouraging, but what is still lacking is the detail as to how it will be rolled out to the nation. This year was always set to be one where we count our losses from the devastation of the pandemic and look to adapt to whatever the “new normal” will be in these extraordinary times. Essential in this process of “adapting” is the successful implementation of a vaccination programme.
There’s certainly no end to this pandemic nor a start to an economic recovery without an effective national vaccination programme. In doling out travel bans or restrictions, you can already see how some of our large trading partners are going to treat nations that don’t have a grip on the disease.
We hope President Ramaphosa’s administration can now begin to share much greater detail on the programme. The world’s leading nations such as the US and the UK, with their bigger treasuries, are also looking to acquire as many vaccines as possible, making it a difficult task for an already stretched South African fiscus. Reserve Bank governor Lesetja Kganyago has lamented the games of vaccine nationalism taking place on a global stage, which weaken the response of the emerging world to the pandemic.
Understanding this context in which the Presidency, Treasury and the health ministry are operating to source sufficient vaccines, as well as understanding the magnitude of this test and that it’s the first time the government has had to undertake such a challenge, we’ve been clear as business that we stand ready to assist. It’s not only on the top of the list of priorities of the state but for business as well. Success of the vaccination programme is critical to recover from the ravages of the pandemic that shrank the economy by 7% last year.
As business at large, it’s been quite a year, one spent in the main spent supporting state-led Covid-19 interventions that have come at a great cost. In ensuring that the health sector doesn’t fall over, we’ve understood most of the lockdown restrictions to be unavoidable.
If a third wave is inevitable, we’ll soon face some difficult choices. As we gear up to this challenge, we urge the state to be more open in its engagement when deciding on any changes in restrictions in economic activity. As we saw in the build-up to this Easter weekend, leaving industry players to speculate on any impending changes is not beneficial to anyone.
While the new restrictions imposed for Easter may not have a significant impact on the economy, the uncertainty could have just as easily been avoided through a more transparent process in determining restrictions. This lack of transparency also means we remain bewildered as to why the government thinks it’s safer to consume alcohol indoors in restaurants, shebeens and bars than buying alcohol to drink at home. It presented no scientific basis for its decision prohibiting the sale of alcohol for offsite consumption.
In the end though, the only path to avoid yo-yoing between heightened lockdown restrictions and an open economy is through a successful vaccination programme. It’s our most ambitious project yet and the only game in town at this point, if we are to be honest. Details need to emerge and soon to ensure a sustainable economic recovery.
This column was written by Busi Mavuso and was first published in Business Report.