Government ‘admits’ private sector may purchase Covid-19 vaccines: AfriForum and Solidarity

But doing so could prove to be a 'practical impossibility'

Iavan Pijoos Journalist
The government has not prohibited independent procurement of Covid-19 vaccines but doing so at this stage could prove to be a "practical impossibility".
The government has not prohibited independent procurement of Covid-19 vaccines but doing so at this stage could prove to be a "practical impossibility".
Image: 123RF/LUIS CARCELLER

AfriForum and Solidarity on Tuesday said there were no legal restrictions on the purchasing of Covid-19 vaccines and called on the private sector to start buying and distributing them in SA.

They announced at a media briefing that the government had admitted in an affidavit — responding to their legal challenge on the procurement of vaccines — that there were no restrictions preventing the private sector from purchasing vaccines.

COO of Solidarity Dirk Hermann charged that the government did not have the ability to manage the vaccine rollout process alone.

“This includes the purchasing of vaccines. The private sector must be involved with the full vaccine value chain, from procurement to the administering of the vaccine.

“To ensure this, Solidarity and AfriForum approached the court to prevent the nationalisation of the vaccine process,” he said.

But in the affidavit filed in the North Gauteng High Court, health department director-general Sandile Buthelezi said the case brought by AfriForum and Solidarity was “entirely hypothetical and speculative”.

“They place no evidence at all before this court that private persons or provincial health departments are seeking to procure the Covid-19 vaccine themselves but have been precluded from doing so by the Covid-19 response presentation or government strategy.”

Ernst van Zyl, campaign officer for strategy and content at AfriForum, said the timeline of events related to the case made it clear that the government's refusal to answer a letter from their attorney had led to large-scale confusion and a shocking lack of transparency in an urgent matter.

Van Zyl said they went to court to “finally get a response from government — whereas a simple response to our initial letter would have cost the government almost no time at all”.

“There appears to be a deliberate attempt at obfuscation by the government regarding this matter, which leads us to ask, why this lack of transparency?

“The fact that it is taking legal action to force government to answer important questions about an urgent matter that can save lives proves how little value the government really attaches to transparency,” said Van Zyl.

Hermann said the government admitted in the affidavit that there was “no statutory restriction” on the private sector regarding the purchase of vaccines.

“There is now legal certainty that the private sector may purchase and distribute vaccines — a huge setback for looters,” he said.

Buthelezi said in his affidavit that a Covid-19 response presentation by the government, cited by the parties in the court case, “plainly” did not contain any legal prohibition on private parties procuring Covid-19 vaccines.

“The [ambivalent] suggestions by Solidarity and AfriForum to the contrary are artificial and contrived — apparently in an attempt to generate a purported dispute so that they could approach this court.

“But the reality of the matter is that government and its officials have not yet had to determine whether such a legal prohibition is necessary. This is because ... there is no practical possibility of any private person or institution at this stage procuring such vaccines themselves.”

Buthelezi explained this was due to Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers only selling in extremely large quantities, only selling to national governments or initiatives consisting of a number of national governments, and only selling vaccines provided the governments concerned signed agreements giving extensive liability indemnities and guarantees which would be “beyond the reach of virtually any private person or institution”.

AfriForum and Solidarity called on large employers, medical distributors, medical aid funds and other role players to start buying, distributing and administering vaccines on a large scale.

“We also call on suppliers to not only provide vaccines centrally to the government, but to a variety of buyers so that there are more role players in the market, thus also enabling the consumer to make a choice about which vaccine he or she wants administered.

“We will not allow the government to appropriate that which does not belong to it,” Hermann said.

TimesLIVE has reached out to the national health department for comment.

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