/ 26 January 2021

Ramaphosa warns rich countries against vaccine nationalism

Day Two Of The World Economic Forum (wef) 2018
President Cyril Ramaphosa is set to deliver the 2021 State of the Nation address on Thursday. (Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The government is “deeply concerned” about vaccine nationalism, President Cyril Ramaphosa said during his address at the World Economic Forum’s Davos Dialogues on Tuesday.

“The rich countries of the world went out and acquired large doses of vaccines from the manufacturers and developers of these vaccines. And some countries went even beyond and acquired up to four times what their populations need,” Ramaphosa said, during the discussion on South Africa’s economic recovery plan from Covid-19. “And that was aimed at hoarding the vaccines. This is being done to the exclusion of other countries in the world that most need this.”

He spoke about the government’s efforts to help acquire vaccines for African countries. To date, the Covid-19 African vaccine acquisition task team — established to find funding for vaccines — has secured a provisional 270-million doses directly from vaccine manufacturers, he said. This is in addition to the 600-million doses expected from the World Health Organisation’s Covax initiative.

“Through its participation in these continental and global initiatives, South Africa continues to promote the need for universal, fair and equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines.”

Ramaphosa’s address comes on the back of his announcement that South Africa will soon receive its first batch of vaccines from India’s Serum Institute. He made this announcement in his weekly open letter on Monday.

The government has been criticised by, for example, the Democratic Alliance for its slow efforts to acquire the vaccine. 

In the letter, Ramaphosa said the first vaccines to arrive would be given to healthcare workers. The second phase will include essential workers, teachers, the elderly and those with comorbidities. The third phase will include other adults in the population. Health Minister Zweli Mkhize briefed the country on the rollout plan in early January.

During the Davos discussion, Ramaphosa implored governments hoarding vaccines to release the excess doses they have ordered. “There is just no need for a country which has about 40-million people to go and acquire 160-million doses. And yet the world needs access to those vaccines.”

A recent epidemiological study commissioned by the International Chamber of Commerce found that the global economy stands to lose as much as $9.2-trillion if governments fail to ensure developing countries gain access to Covid-19 vaccines.

The study’s authors used an economic epidemiological model of international production and trade networks to make its findings. The researchers estimate that advanced economies will bear up to 53% of the pandemic’s global economic costs in 2021, even if they achieve universal vaccination in their own countries.

To minimise the pandemic’s domestic economic costs on countries, a globally coordinated push for the production and the distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine is required, the study concludes.

“In this paper, we highlight this wisdom from an economic perspective to illustrate that ‘No economy is an island.’ The economic interdependencies of countries imply that the economic drag in one country has immediate grave consequences for the others.”