EFF march for vaccines: Sahpra says it will only be 'swayed' by science

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Photo: Chris Moagi
Photo: Chris Moagi
  • Sahpra will do its job without fear and won't succumb to any political influence.
  • The EFF will embark on a mass march to Sahpra's offices on Friday.
  • The regulatory body says it is prioritising the health and safety of people.

The party is on Friday marching to the offices of the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) - under the banner of "March to Save Lives".

The EFF says it will not be swayed by politics. 

Sahpra, in turn, remains steadfast that science will lead the way. 

The EFF wants Sahpra to include the Sputnik V and Sinovac vaccines in the government's rollout programme.

The party has threatened to hold a sit-in until their demands are met. 

Sahpra's CEO, Boitumelo Semete-Makokotlela, made it abundantly clear the health body would do its job without being "influenced or swayed" by anybody or anything, except science. 

Semete-Makokotlela was speaking during a webinar, hosted by News24 and journalist, Redi Tlhabi, on Wednesday. 

Semete-Makokotlela said, if they gave in to a political party, the public or the medical community, Sahpra would become an untrusted health regulatory body.

The independent health entity said it would only work with credible, clinical data on vaccines.

It was aware of the EFF's planned mass march.

READ | DA, other political parties decline EFF invite for Friday’s march to Sahpra’s offices

EFF leader Julius Malema is unapologetic about the alleged politicisation of the government's vaccine rollout programme. 

While, initially, Malema was supportive of the government's efforts to curb the spread of Covid-19, he later became critical, calling for stricter lockdown measures. 

Now, he is calling for a total disregard of these measures.

He said the government had failed to secure vaccines.

On Wednesday, Sahpra confirmed it had received documentation for the Sinopharm vaccine, developed by the China National Pharmaceutical Group, and that it would commence with evaluating the data to assess the efficacy of the vaccine.

Semete-Makokotlela said: "Many of you have seen the stories around ivermectin. Had we given in on ivermectin, and not stood our ground, and we continue to stand our ground until we get data, we will not change our position.

She added:

Similarly with these vaccines, until we satisfy ourselves, as a regulator, we will not bow down to any pressure. Yes, they will be marching on Friday. I will be there. I'll receive the memorandum and we'll take it from there. And I will go back to the office, and I'll work with my team.

The CEO of the health regulatory body said the approval of vaccine suppliers was not an easy process. It had to undergo several procedures before being approved and accepted for public usage.

Semete-Makokotlela said they worked tirelessly, trying to ensure that everything, regarding the correct approval of vaccines, was on track

"Again, these are not decisions that we make in days or weeks. It's balloon sets of data that we look at. If I can make an example with the Janssen vaccine - they first applied to us in November of last year. We made the decision at the end of March this year. And it is because we needed to make sure that the data we need is made available," Semete-Makokotlela said. 

Politics

At the heart of the EFF's fight against Sahpra is the assertion that it is prioritising private interests.

Malema previously said: 

We have it on solid authority that Helen Rees (chairperson) is married to a Fazel Randera, who is, in turn, a shareholder in Aspen. Aspen is the local partner of J&J [Johnson & Johnson] and stands to privately benefit if Sputnik V and Sinovac are not authorised in South Africa.

Sahpra has denied this, but Malema and other EFF leaders have persisted with the accusation. 

The regulatory body has repeatedly asserted its independence from the national health department. 

The EFF insisted that the march, despite the risks, was not the only protest action planned; sit-ins at Rees' house was also part of it. 

About six political parties, including the DA, Action SA and Freedom Front Plus, declined to join the EFF's march, saying it was a super-spreader event, which places the lives of many in danger.

ALSO READ | Ramaphosa 'wants to lock us up again' - Malema slams lockdown regulations, demands vaccines

Unions and non-governmental organisations, like the South African Medical Association, told News24 they had not received an invitation to attend the march.

The deputy general secretary of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union, December Mavuso, confirmed that they would not be attending the march.

"We are agreeing on the call we've made since last year. To expand the net in terms of finding vaccines in other countries, whether in Russia or Cuba and so on, but we have not discussed working together with the EFF," he said.

Meanwhile, eight streets are expected to be affected by the EFF's planned March in the capital. 

The Tshwane metro police department said officers would be deployed to monitor the march and all affected streets.

Motorists have been advised to avoid the affected streets and use alternative routes.

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