OPINION | SA on the right track as it prepares to acquire vaccines from fellow BRICS members

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President Cyril Ramaphosa has, since the advent of coronavirus, offered South Africa a truly exemplary leadership. With amazing monotonous regularity, he has taken the country in confidence and informed, educated, alerted, warned, nay, did as much as he possibly could to help minimize the rampaging effects of coronavirus.

Hence, every time he announced strict lockdown measures to bring the population in the straight and narrow, there have been little or no complaints. In my view, this is evidence of trusted leadership by the people when they are convinced that theirs is a government of the people, for the people.

But then again, President Ramaphosa is no saint and has never once claimed to be. He’s human and far from infallible. Responsible public commentary requires as its basic tenet constructive criticism which is geared toward building, instead of destroying. The recent omission of BRICS by President Ramaphosa during his regular night time “family meetings” when he addressed the nation about COVID-19 vaccines left many concerned and worried.

Recently, amid much fanfare, South Africa received AstraZeneca vaccine from India and the rollout to the health workers and other frontline personnel was much anticipated. Until, of course, the unexpected anti-climax when, seemingly belatedly, authorities picked up dangerous fault-lines in the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Preliminary data showed that AstraZeneca offered minimal protection against mild to moderate illness from the country’s dominant Coronavirus variant, 501Y.V2.

On another day, once could raise a litany of questions over the apparent shortcomings on the part of the relevant authorities to ensure that all boxes were ticked before the faulty AstraZeneca arrived in our shores. Yet, still, it is difficult to ignore that “try” the government did in bringing us the vaccine expeditiously.

Now, the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine has arrived. We hope that mistakes won’t become recurring. Our health workers, like their colleagues the world over, deserve nothing less than full praise. They deserve to be at the front of the queue as we anxiously await the vaccine. The rest of us will understandably follow.

The good news, too, is the word from the health authorities that the now universally sought after Russian vaccine Sputnik V is also on our radar. According to the health department report the manufactures of Sputnik V, Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, have applied to register the shot for use with SA’s health products regulator. This is good news indeed. Although in the beginning aspersions were cast over the efficacy of Sputnik V, today many countries around the world are jostling to receive the Russian vaccine. This is after it was proven to have at least 92% efficacy during its third stage of trials. Better late than never.

South Africa has also signed a non-disclosure agreement the Beijing over the Sinopharm of China vaccine, which has already been distributed to the public in its country of origin.

As a member of the exclusive group BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), President Ramaphosa needs to demonstrate a greater appreciation of the advantages contained therein the BRICS membership.

That two of our very close allies in Russia and China are producing COVID-19 vaccines and yet we seem to be at the back of the queue beggars belief. At a time like this when the entire international community is hustling for the COVID-19 vaccine, we need to leverage on our diplomatic relationships within BRICS and indeed elsewhere in equal measure.

Indeed, the more the merrier. The end-game remains the same: we need to minimise the horrible impact coronavirus has had on our lives.


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