South Africa “screwed” when buying Covid-19 vaccines

A Health Justice Initiative (HJI) investigation into vaccine procurement agreements between 2020 and 2022 has uncovered several ways South Africa got the short end of the proverbial stick when procuring Covid-19 vaccines.

According to the report, Johnson and Johnson wanted to charge South Africa $10 per dose of the vaccine, whereas the European Union was to be charged $8.50, and Unicef was to pay $7.50.

However, South Africa was eventually allowed to pay the same rate as Unicef.

This was not the case with AstraZeneca.

The EU was charged £2.50 per dose of this vaccine, whereas South Africa was forced to pay £5.25 — over 2.5 times the price.

In addition to being more than double the price, the vaccine was ultimately not used in South Africa because it ended up being less effective against the beta variant of Covid-19.

Furthermore, while South Africa paid R283 million to the COVAX vaccine pool through the Solidarity Fund and committed to buying 12 million doses through COVAX, it only ended up receiving 1.3 million through the programme.

Unable to return unnecessary vaccines

Speaking to the Sunday Times, Department of Health deputy director-general Dr Nicholas Crisp (pictured) explained that when South Africa realised it did not need as many vaccines as first ordered, it could not adjust the order.

“We were not allowed to reduce our orders. [When] we tried to change our mind, we were told that ‘You’ve committed, that’s it,'” said Crisp.

Crisp added that the country was told that even if it had to dispose of the vaccines due to low demand, it was ‘your problem and there’s no refund.’

“There’s no question that this was unacceptable. We are very unhappy with the way in which this all happened,” said Crisp.

Furthermore, Crisp explained that when Johnson and Johnson began bottling vaccines in South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa requested that South Africa could receive the vaccine being bottled here — but was refused this request.

“They exported all that vaccine to Europe and then re-exported from there to us that which they thought they could spare at the time, to honour their deliveries around the world,” said Crisp.

“So it was literally you take it or leave it. This is why we ended up with agreements signed in foreign jurisdictions.”

“The bottom line is we were screwed.”

Pfizer vaccine

Investigation into procurement

This information about South Africa’s Covid-19 procurement follows a drawn-out process where the Department of Health had refused to disclose vaccine procurement documents to the HJI.

Last month, the Pretoria High Court ordered that the department hand over these documents to the organisation, with Judge Anthony Millar determining that there was sufficient public interest to warrant the disclosure of the records.

Reasons for this being in the public interest included that departmental reports to parliament had suggested “grotesque” agreement terms.

The PAIA application by the HJI was first submitted in July 2021, and it took the department until January 2022 to reply that “As per confidential agreements, the National Department of Health is not at liberty to divulge the information.”

However, Millar noted that when an application is refused, the refusing party must give adequate reasons and the provisions that backed these reasons up. The department could do neither.

Instead, the department vaguely referred to “confidentiality clauses” — which were “at odds with its constitutional obligations.”

“In my view, it is self-evident that there is a public interest in the disclosure of the records,” said Millar.


Now read: Ramaphosa considers cutting number of government departments in South Africa

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South Africa “screwed” when buying Covid-19 vaccines