President Cyril Ramaphosa has slammed pharmaceutical companies and allied Western governments for their resistance to calls by India and South Africa for temporary waivers to ramp up production of Covid-19 vaccines.
Ramaphosa was speaking during the opening virtual session of the Qatar Economic Forum on Monday.
“Well, we see that their refusal to waive this intellectual property provision that they have is part of vaccine nationalism and 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 for a three-year period to enable countries that have a capability to be able to produce the vaccines.
“India and South Africa have the capability and so do a number of other countries in the developing economic countries, particularly on the African continent.
“And we say the continued refusal leads to inequality on vaccines. We are facing an emergency that is affecting the entire world and it is wholly unfair and wholly unjust that pharmaceutical companies as well as certain countries are refusing to allow this provision to be waved so that there can be mass production of these vaccines, so that we can save lives,” Ramaphosa said.
— Cyril Ramaphosa 🇿🇦 #StaySafe (@CyrilRamaphosa) June 21, 2021
The proposed waiver from the WTO’s agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) has support in principle from US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron.
But the pharmaceutical industry is against the waiver, as are Germany, Switzerland and the World Bank. They argue it would stifle innovation and that vaccine supplies are constrained by a lack of manufacturing capacity, a Reuters report said.
Both India and South Africa say they have ample capacity.
Ramaphosa said: “I think it is selfish, it is unjust, and it is wholly unfair, and we are going to insist that there should be this waiver… because no one is safe anywhere in the world without everyone being safe.”
South Africa has so far only vaccinated at least two million people, 1.8% of its population, one of the world’s lowest rates.
It suffered a setback when Aspen Pharmacare (APNJ.J), local producer of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, had to destroy two million doses due to contamination at a plant in Baltimore, Maryland, US. J&J is sending two million replacement doses.
“We were supposed to have received quite a number of vaccines but this contamination has delayed that but we are rather pleased that Johnson and Johnson has agreed that they will replace those two million that we would have had and our vaccination process will get back on stream, and hopefully, it will move a lot faster forward,” said Ramaphosa.
Ramaphosa said his government did not envision reducing the order of 31 million doses of Johnson and Johnson and replacing it with other shots.
“Johnson and Johnson has a number of great advantages for us because it’s a one-shot jab dose and yet the others are two doses. So that is preferable because a number of our people are in the rural areas and they have to be reached. It’s better if they are reached once rather than twice,” he said.
He said logistically, Johnson and Johnsons was also a lot easier to manage in remote rural areas.
“The logistics are much more favourable because the storage is quite good, it’s fridge temperature rather than very low temperatures, so that is conducive for our own situation,” Ramaphosa said.
By Betha Madhomu