Here’s a fun fact that has been omitted from the vaccine narrative:
There isn’t enough manufacturing capacity to produce vaccine doses for all humans on earth in 2021.
So no matter how much money we throw at the procurement, there is physically not enough to go around. To add insult to injury, the manufacturers are also chasing profits to cover the costs of the intense research and development that delivered viable vaccines in record time. Add to that the transport costs of delivering to far flung places which requires highly sophisticated cold storage chains and you have a recipe for complexity.
In a bid to simplify all of this by simultaneously increasing manufacturing capacity and solving many of the transport challenges, South Africa and India asked the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to waive a couple sections of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPS). Temporary waiving of the patent rights around vaccine manufacture will allow more facilities to produce the much-needed vaccine doses and see the price drop dramatically.
With over half of the 2021 vaccine capacity already taken up by rich countries like Canada and the US, emerging economies like South Africa are left scrambling for funding and/or charitable donations to protect our population against further uncontrolled outbreaks of COVID-19.
Vaccine procurement is not the same as visiting the pharmacy. There’s politics and science at play here that cannot be taken for granted.
The controversy surrounding the AstraZeneca vaccine and its ineffectiveness against the new variant of COVID-19 was only discovered after testing was done of the doses SA obtained from India were delivered. About 90 percent of the current Covid cases in our country are of the new flavour, so it makes zero sense to give our frontline medical workers a vaccine that doesn’t protect them from contracting the variant of the virus that their patients are carrying.
That Wits/Oxford study results are still to be peer reviewed, but is enough reason to suspend the roll-out plan that was targeted at healthcare workers. Since we have one million doses, the study is now being extended to other demographics and targeted at testing efficacy against severe Covid cases.
Science is trial and error. Capitalism is driven towards profits. National government has been nothing but transparent about the vaccine procurement process.
The Johnson&Johnson vaccine is our next best bet because it is being manufactured for export at the company facilities within our borders, which solves one problem. But the vaccines that are produced here are the property of Johnson&Johnson and are part of the consignments to fulfill the deals that they have signed with customers.
Please consider all the challenges facing our health department when trying to procure these vaccines when next you want to have an opinion about how government is handling things.