Government ‘admits’ private sector may purchase Covid-19 vaccines: AfriForum and Solidarity

But doing so could prove to be a ‘practical impossibility’

02 March 2021 - 13:20 By iavan pijoos
The government has not prohibited independent procurement of Covid-19 vaccines. Stock photo.
The government has not prohibited independent procurement of Covid-19 vaccines. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/LUIS CARCELLER

AfriForum and Solidarity on Tuesday said there were no legal restrictions on the purchasing of Covid-19 vaccines and called on the private sector to start buying and distributing them in SA.

They announced that the government had admitted in an affidavit, responding to their legal challenge on the procurement of vaccines, that there were no restrictions preventing the private sector from purchasing vaccines.

Solidarity Dirk COO Hermann charged that the government did not have the ability to manage the vaccine rollout process alone.

“This includes the purchasing of vaccines. The private sector must be involved with the full vaccine value chain, from procurement to the administering of the vaccines.

“To ensure this, Solidarity and AfriForum approached the court to prevent the nationalisation of the vaccine process,” he said.

However, in the affidavit filed in the North Gauteng High Court, health department director-general Sandile Buthelezi said the case brought by AfriForum and Solidarity was “entirely hypothetical and speculative”.

“They place no evidence at all before this court that private persons or provincial health departments are seeking to procure the Covid-19 vaccine themselves but have been precluded from doing so by the Covid-19 response presentation or government strategy.”

Ernst van Zyl, campaign officer for strategy and content at AfriForum, said the timeline of events related to the case made it clear the government's refusal to answer a letter from their attorney had led to large-scale confusion and a shocking lack of transparency in an urgent matter.

Van Zyl said they went to court to “finally get a response from government, whereas a simple response to our initial letter would have cost the government almost no time at all”.

“There appears to be a deliberate attempt at obfuscation by the government regarding this matter, which leads us to ask, why this lack of transparency?

“The fact that it is taking legal action to force government to answer important questions about an urgent matter that can save lives proves how little value the government attaches to transparency,” said Van Zyl.

He said they would not proceed with the court case since they found the answers they were looking for.

Hermann said the government admitted in the affidavit there was “no statutory restriction” on the private sector regarding the purchase of vaccines.

“There is legal certainty that the private sector may purchase and distribute vaccines, which is a huge setback for looters,” he said.

Buthelezi said in his affidavit that a Covid-19 response presentation by the government, cited by the parties in the court case “plainly” did not contain any legal prohibition on private parties procuring Covid-19 vaccines.

“The [ambivalent] suggestions by Solidarity and AfriForum to the contrary are artificial and contrived, apparently in an attempt to generate a purported dispute so they could approach this court,” he said.

“But the reality of the matter is that government and its officials have not yet had to determine whether such a legal prohibition is necessary. This is because there is no practical possibility of any private person or institution at this stage procuring such vaccines themselves.”

Buthelezi said this was due to Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers only selling extremely large quantities, only selling to national governments or initiatives consisting of a number of national governments, and only selling vaccines provided the governments concerned signed agreements giving extensive liability indemnities and guarantees which would be “beyond the reach of virtually any private person or institution”.

Buthelezi said Solidarity and AfriForum appeared “constrained to accept” that no person can procure vaccines and distribute them in the country if the vaccines have not been approved by the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra).

“But this has not yet occurred in a manner that would allow private parties to do so,” he said.

AfriForum and Solidarity called on large employers, medical distributors, medical aid funds and other role players to start buying, distributing and administering vaccines on a large scale.

“We also call on suppliers to not only provide vaccines centrally to the government, but to a variety of buyers so there are more role players in the market, thus also enabling the consumer to make a choice about which vaccine he or she wants administered.

“We will not allow the government to appropriate that which does not belong to it,” Hermann said.

TimesLIVE has reached out to the national health department for comment.

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