Riots and unrest in South Africa have significantly affected the country’s vaccine rollout plan, with reports of pharmacies and vaccination sites having been looted in the wake of recent demonstrations.
COVID-19 vaccine rollouts in KwaZulu Natal (KZN) province have halted for the foreseeable future. This is according to a statement from the Department of Health that was emailed to the media, and seen by Global Citizen, on July 13, 2021, which confirmed that essential stock from vaccine sites and other medical centres in both KZN and Gauteng province have been stolen as a result of ongoing riots.
“Government and the private sector’s priority is to protect lives, and prevent harm to staff, patients and the medical supplies and property that form part of the vaccination programme,” the statement said.
“Consequently, Government and the private sector are adopting a precautionary principle, and will be temporarily closing some vaccination sites which have been damaged, or which may be at risk,” it continued.
South Africa has vaccinated just over 4.2 million people to date, which is just 7% of the country’s 60 million population. Continued setbacks to vaccine rollouts could mean that the country will likely not reach herd immunity (vaccinating 67% of the population) by early 2022, a goal the government set out earlier this year.
Protests that began after the arrest of former president Jacob Zuma on July 7, 2021 have been ongoing in South Africa due to economic disparity. These demonstrations have escalated to mass looting of shops and malls, the vandalization of property, and have been linked to poverty and inequality experienced in the country.
The health department also acknowledged that demonstrations in the country have impacted access to essential chronic medications, including TB, HIV and diabetes medicine.
In the private sector, the Independent Community Pharmacy Association (IPCA) has reported in a separate statement that their pharmacies across the country, which also house and roll out COVID-19 vaccines, have been affected.
“As a direct result of the violence that has spread across the country, our independent pharmacies have been looted and destroyed, with millions of rand of much-needed medication lost and destroyed,” the ICPA said.
While the vaccine rollout has been put on pause in protest-affected regions, the health department has committed to continuing the rollout plan across the country.
“The national vaccination programme is continuing across most provinces, with vaccines being safely distributed to operational sites,” the department’s emailed statement said.
Citizens in impacted areas who were registered to receive their vaccines this week will be automatically rescheduled for a date when vaccine sites have reopened, and will receive an electronic notification with further details.
South Africa is also set to produce and deliver 17 million Johnson & Johnson vaccines for domestic rollout and other countries on the continent through a manufacturing deal with pharmaceutical company Aspen Pharmacare. These vaccines will be ready to be distributed by the end of July and will be delivered to regions in need for the remainder of the year. President Ramaphosa delivered this news in a national address on Sunday July 11, 2021.
Plans to produce these vaccines have seemingly not been disrupted by ongoing riots, as these have been concentrated in KZN and Gauteng provinces, meaning the demonstrations and looting have not affected the Aspen manufacturing site in Gqeberha, located in the Eastern Cape Province.
With regards to medication that has been looted, the health department has issued a warning to citizens not to buy or take any stolen medication or vaccines.
“Stolen or improperly dispensed medicines are extremely dangerous as they may not have been stored properly, may be contaminated, or cause dangerous side effects,” the health department’s statement said.
The department also encouraged the public to report stolen medicine to the South African Police Services.
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