Slow and shambolic start to government’s vaccine rollout is more reason to decentralise control

Issued by John Steenhuisen MP – Leader of the Democratic Alliance
17 May 2021 in News

Today marks the start of South Africa’s official vaccine rollout. Although the ultimate aim is to reach herd immunity by vaccinating 40 million people, what matters right now is getting as many high-risk individuals as possible vaccinated before the third wave hits.

This crucial objective requires South Africans to pull together in a massive national effort. We need the public and private health sectors working together, with doctors, pharmacies, clinics and mass vaccination centres running at full speed. We need all high-risk individuals to come forward and get registered and vaccinated. Fortunately, around 70% of South Africans are keen to get vaccinated.

Unfortunately, we are at the mercy of a government determined to control the programme centrally yet incapable of delivering efficiently.

The rollout is off to a slow and shambolic start, with very little sense of urgency. As usual, the Ramaphosa administration is under-utilising the private sector, keeping the public in the dark, and setting targets it can’t meet.

Slow: Only 2.6% of vaccination sites are ready to operate from today – just 87 of the more than 3000 sites promised. The need to start small and ramp up is understandable. But our government has had many months to plan this rollout – much more time than our peer countries, whose rollouts are mostly well underway already. Furthermore, government had the option of administering the 1 million AstraZeneca doses that were delivered in March. This would have provided an opportunity to iron out teething problems.

More sites would have been registered if back-up generators weren’t required for vaccine fridges. ANC Eskom failures compounding ANC vaccine failures.

Shambolic: No provisions have been made yet for those people to register, who lack access to the internet. Those who have registered online have still not received the promised sms notification of appointments. According to Mkhize, some 12 000 smses were dispatched during the night last night with invitations to be vaccinated today. Literally no notice at all, from a government which has had over a year to plan its rollout.

The 1.1 million J&J vaccines that were expected in mid-May have not been delivered, so only a limited supply of Pfizer vaccines is available.

Poor communications: Still no detailed rollout programme has been published. What little information there is was communicated to the public piecemeal, in a last-minute presentation between 8pm and 10pm last night, as if government suddenly woke up yesterday morning and realised there is a vulnerable public out there anxious to know when they can get vaccinated.

Private sector under-utilised: Only 4 private sector sites will be operational today. This is astonishing when one considers the thousands of GPs and pharmacies across the country, and the enormous potential of the private sector to deliver jabs to arms. It is inexplicable why so few permits have been issued to private sector entities to approve them as vaccination sites.

Unachievable targets: Given the slow, shambolic start, the targets given by Health Minister Mkhize are unrealistic, and undermine credibility and trust in the programme.

Only 478 733 healthcare workers have been vaccinated so far (in the Sisonke trial), yet Mkhize said last night in his last-minute, late-night statement that they will complete the targeted 1.2million healthcare workers by the end of the week. This is unachievable, given that the Pfizer doses at their disposal require a double dose roughly 3 weeks apart and that even just administering the first dose to the remaining 720 000 healthcare workers requires achieving a rate of over 100 000 doses per day for each day of the week.

At the same time, he said “five million senior citizens (60 years and older) are targeted to be completed by the end of June”. That is just 45 days away. Assuming most of those need a double dose, that requires around 180 000 to 200 000 doses administered per day, every day, starting from today. This is simply not going to happen.

All of which shows that national government is out of its depth and has yet again failed to deliver in this crucial area. South Africa is heading into a third wave unprotected and phenomenally vulnerable. Lives and jobs will be lost unnecessarily, and the blame falls fairly and squarely on national government with its obsession with centralised control.

The solution is to decentralise control to harness the full capabilities of the private sector.

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