The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) notes the unveiling of the vaccine roll out plan by the Minister of Health, Dr Zwelini Mkhize, yesterday evening.
The plan unveiled by the Minister was very scant on details and very ambiguous on the timelines especially on delivery dates. The plan by the Minister did not have a clear logistical roll-out plan for vaccination, for example in terms of training of the clinicians to vaccinate, geographic layout of the vaccination especially for the vulnerable cohorts, etc.
As NEHAWU, we believe that negotiations with vaccine manufacturers should have started long ago. We share the sentiments of our federation, the Congress of South African Congress (COSATU) that government was caught napping while we are facing a deadly pandemic that has killed millions of people across the world.
Because of the delay by government to start negotiations with vaccine manufacturers and participation in the COVAX facility we are now bearing the brunt of the scarcity of vaccines and having to wait for availability while other countries have begun with the rollout. This takes place while the infection rate is skyrocketing on a daily basis and many people losing their lives to the virus.
As NEHAWU, we call for more transparency on the matter of the vaccine and urge government to move with speed in the procurement processes. Furthermore, we demand that government engages both Russia and China on emergency procurement of their vaccines for healthcare workers whilst waiting for the COVAX delivery.
If government was committed to saving lives and stopping infections they would have moved with speed to procure the vaccine. The delays proves that our government is not in touch with reality and unaware of the grave situation we find ourselves in as a country including the strain suffered by our overstretched healthcare system.
We appreciate the prioritisation of frontline workers for vaccination, however, we are extremely worried by the composition of the task team responsible for the vaccine procurement and distribution. The inclusion of private healthcare providers is worrisome because of their prioritisation of profits over lives. It is the same people who have been opposed to the implementation of the National Health Insurance (NHI) and prefer a healthcare system that treats people based on their ability to pay than their sickness.
The private sector is profit-driven and ran by capitalists who are preoccupied with their dividend accumulation and standings at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE). Government must be careful and not get used by private healthcare providers to maximise their profits. The working class and the poor must be prioritised for the distribution of the vaccine when it becomes available. Trade unions must plan a central role when the vaccination of frontline workers takes place to ensure that workers receive the vaccine and there is no cutting of corners.
Lastly, the national union demands that government treats the issue of the vaccine with the urgency it deserves on behalf of our people who are killed by the virus on a daily basis. We need to be more aggressive in looking for a vaccine to protect our people especially frontline workers who are our first line of defence against the virus.
Issued by NEHAWU Secretariat