President Cyril Ramaphosa defends SA's use of J&J vaccine

21 June 2021 - 16:46 By aphiwe deklerk
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President Cyril Ramaphosa. File photo.
President Cyril Ramaphosa. File photo.
Image: GCIS

President Cyril Ramaphosa has defended his government's insistence on going ahead with plans to roll out the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine.

Speaking at the opening session of the Qatar Economic Forum, Ramaphosa said SA would be going ahead with its vaccination programme using the J&J vaccine.

The country had secured 31 million doses of the vaccine, but has since been hit by delays after the US Food and Drug Administration raised red flags about the possibility of contamination from a Baltimore production facility.

As a result, the country has had to delay the rollout of two million doses which were at the Aspen plant in Gqeberha.

“As it is now, it [the contamination issue] is affecting [rollout] negatively. We were supposed to have received a number of vaccines but this contamination has delayed that. But we are rather pleased that Johnson & Johnson has agreed that they will replace those two million that we would have had, those that had to be destroyed. They will replace them and our vaccination will get back on stream and hopefully it will move a lot faster,” said Ramaphosa.

He said the country was not intending to reduce the number of doses it has purchased from J&J.

“[The] Johnson & Johnson vaccine has a number of advantages for us because it's a one-shot jab dose and the others are two doses. So that is preferable for us, particularly because a number of our people are in rural areas and they have to be reached. It's better if you reach them once, rather than twice.

“The other part of it is that the logistics are much more favourable because the storage thereof is quite good. It's just fridge temperature, rather than very low temperature, so that is conducive for our own situation. So we will not be reducing the 31 million [doses].”

He said the country was, however, looking to add other vaccines like Pfizer, and were looking to also add Sinovac.

Ramaphosa said the J&J vaccine was going to be the baseload vaccine, because it's also produced in SA and made by the country's workers in Gqeberha.

Explaining why the country was lagging behind in its rollout of vaccines, Ramaphosa said it had been hit by a number of unfortunate situations.    

He said the country was supposed to be among the first out of the blocks when it ordered doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, but its plans were derailed when scientists found a different variant of Covid-19 which rendered the vaccine less effective in SA.

“We were held back but we are going to be back on stream because we are now able to do about 100,000 [shots] a day, 150,000. We will be moving to 250,000 vaccinations a day, so we will catch up the loss; the time that we have lost.”

Ramaphosa criticised countries and companies opposed to the patent waivers of vaccines, saying it was “vaccine nationalism”.

“We just don't understand the sense of it all because all we are asking for, together with India, is that there should be a waiver on a three-year period to enable countries that have a capability to be able to produce the vaccines. India and SA have the capability and so do a number of developing economy countries, particularly in the African continent,” he said.

He said it was unfair and unjust for companies and countries to oppose the proposed waivers.


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