'Distributing vaccines is not rocket science' - Archbishop Makgoba slams government

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba.
Archbishop Thabo Makgoba.
City Press
  • Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba is sceptical that government will roll out Covid-19 vaccines for everyone and in time.
  • Makgoba criticised the global procurement agreements via Covax, saying the initiative was failing the poor.
  • He said scientists have done their job by developing vaccines and called on government to be transparent and fair in the vaccine roll-out.


Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba has criticised government's vaccination programme, saying the poor would be left behind to suffer in the global Covid-19 pandemic.

Makgoba delivered the Easter vigil sermon at St George's Cathedral in Cape Town on Saturday.

READ | Covid-19: 200 000 J&J vaccines expected in SA within next two weeks

He said he was sceptical about government's target to vaccinate 41 million people, announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa. The public healthcare system had been "poisoned" by rampant corruption, he added.

"We know that political leadership has been woefully lacking in the worst areas affected: shame on those who have left hospitals and clinics short of people, equipment and protection. I have read that on the current strategy it would take 18 years to vaccinate our entire present population! We cannot allow that to happen," Makgoba said.

"Make no mistake, we are a world-class country. Our medical scientists are world-class. Ten years ago, we built world-class soccer stadiums and ran a world-class World Cup. Distributing and administering vaccines is not rocket science, it's just a matter of getting the logistics right. If humankind can send a spacecraft 470 million kilometres to Mars and gently drop a landing rover onto the planet's surface, surely South Africans can come up with a co-ordinated plan to collaborate in getting vaccines quickly to every corner of our country?"

Makgoba said he had written to director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Dr Anthony Fauci, telling him that the Covax vaccine programme and the bilateral agreements used to procure vaccines globally were failing. The Covax programme is aimed at equitable vaccine access for all.

"Vaccine nationalism has already taken hold. A quick check this week showed that while the United States had vaccinated 16 percent of its population, we had covered less than half a percent of ours, and many countries haven't seen vaccines at all. These bilateral agreements are failing especially for the Global South, where we can with justification, say that the poor of the world are suffering from vaccine apartheid."

The archbishop praised scientists for "developing vaccines in record time" to fight the pandemic.

"We owe much to our scientists, including the world-class researchers South Africa has brought to this task."

READ | Business leaders attend 'crisis meeting' with President Ramaphosa over vaccine rollout

Addressing the nation on Tuesday, Ramaphosa said more than 250 000 healthcare workers had taken the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine as part of the Sisonke trial, News24 reported.He also announced that the government had secured 11 million J&J vaccine doses, adding it was finalising securing a further 20 million doses from the pharmaceutical company.

Ramaphosa said the government was finalising another 20 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine as it prepared for phase two of the vaccination programme in mid-May.The president said the supply would provide the country with enough vaccines for 41 million people.

The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) announced this week it had registered the J&J vaccine with conditions.

It said the vaccine, developed by J&J's vaccine arm Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies, was registered on Wednesday, 31 March 2021.The registration was done in terms of Section 15(6a) of the Medicines and Related Substances Act 101 of 1965, allowing it to register a medicine subject to certain conditions.

"The authorisation is, however, subject to a number of conditions which includes that the vaccine is supplied and administered in accordance with the [national Department of Health's] Covid-19 vaccination plan and applicable guidelines," Sahpra CEO Dr Boitumelo Semete-Makokotlela said.

"This registration signals a significant step in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. This authorisation is based on acceptable safety, quality and efficacy data submitted by Janssen Pharmaceutica (Pty) Ltd to Sahpra as a rolling submission over the period 11 December 2020 to 17 March 2021."

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