Are we snubbing vaccines from Russia and China?

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What is the moral worthiness of political and diplomatic networks to South Africa when the country fails to leverage on the evident success and progress of its allies in BRICS?

President Cyril Ramaphosa has done a sterling job in steering our ship amid the COVID-19 pandemic and socio-economic woes. Similarly, he has played a protagonist role through the African Union structures by mobilizing continental solidarity in the new global war for access to COVID-19 vaccinations.

In his address to the nation, President Ramaphosa implored all to join him in his joyous welcome of our country’s first consignment of the COVID-19 vaccines.

The consignment consisted of one million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine which had been produced by the Serum Institute in India, a member of the five-nation strategic bloc comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS).

A visibly elated President Ramaphosa told the nation: “The arrival of these vaccines contains the promise that we can turn the tide on this disease that has caused so much devastation and hardship in our country and across the world.”

The President spoke about the “unprecedented speed and scale” at which the vaccines had been developed from multiple quarters, bringing humanity into closer cooperation in pursuit of the same objective.

President Ramaphosa further revealed that “we are sourcing our vaccines from a number of suppliers”.

These include the “global COVAX facility, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team of the African Union”. All this is well and good.

But throughout the entire African continent, South Africa is the only member of the strategic BRICS bloc. Within this five-member group two – China and Russia – are permanent members of the UN Security Council. They each possess an all-important veto power through which singularly or jointly, they can block any UN Security Council resolution they disagree with.

This is one of the rare strategic benefits South Africa is exposed to, an ally to both China and Russia within the framework of BRICS.

In the light of the above the big question then, is, why has South Africa not sourced the COVID-19 vaccine from either of her two BRICS allies?

Russia has developed and is exporting to several countries its much-heralded Sputnik V vaccine. For the uninitiated, Sputnik V is in fact the world’s first registered vaccine against coronavirus infection.

A few weeks ago whilst making a presentation to the UN, scientists from Gamaleya Institute, which developed Sputnik V, revealed that preliminary orders have been placed totaling 1.2 billion doses.

About 40 countries representing more than half of the world’s population had reportedly raised their hand for access to Sputnik V.

Countries at the front of the queue for Sputnik V include Israel, Hungary, Venezuela, the UAE, the Philippines and closer to home, Algeria and Morocco.

Zeev Rotstein, director of Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Centre, one of Israel’s largest hospitals, has dismissed Western objections to his placement of a huge order for Sputnik V as more political than scientific.

China, the world’s second-largest economy after the US, which is anticipated to remain a super-power for the foreseeable future, has successfully developed their vaccine, known as Sinopharm. Beijing has already approved the general public use of the vaccine after it was granted an emergency license when it showed 79% efficacy rate in Phase Three trials. To date, the UAE and Bahrain have already granted the emergency use of the Sinopharm vaccine for key workers.

The vaccine has been developed by the China National Pharmaceutical Group and is the country’s first general approval of a homemade vaccine, seen as a major step towards inoculating the world’s largest population.

A bothering, lingering question, therefore, remains: Why are we not leveraging on our close ties with Russia and China in order to widen our supply source for vaccines?

Surely, logic dictates that? Unless of course, we are missing something in the complex world of diplomatic relations and the nature of strategic partnerships.

I think, quite frankly, if the government hasn’t sourced the vaccines from its supposedly close allies it would do well by offering a public explanation.

Otherwise, why are we a member of BRICS and is it worthy of the paper it is written on?