/ 15 January 2021

Towards a People’s Vaccine Campaign: A call to action

South Africa’s healthcare system has received a major boost in its efforts to treat infectious diseases such as cancer, HIV, tuberculosis and, more recently, Covid-19.

The Covid-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc — millions in South Africa and globally are being infected and dying. Vaccinating a significant part of the population is the only realistic way to defeat the pandemic. Achieving this will require international co-operation and solidarity. Unity in action across all sectors of our society is now paramount. We need vigilance and solidarity to slow the rate of infection and to unburden health facilities. The reported acquisition of 1.5 million doses of C-19 vaccines for frontline healthcare workers is welcomed, but this must be the start of urgently acquiring millions more. An estimated 40 to 80 million doses will be needed, along with a massive roll-out effort to achieve herd immunity. This cannot be done by the government alone. We, the people, especially the millions of poor and working-class people, must be central to this effort. 

A People’s Movement for the Vaccine 

This call to action arises out of a broad-based demand for urgent mobilisation to ensure equitable vaccine access and allocation, which is endorsed by over 500 organisations and individuals, who raise a call for the creation of a People’s Vaccine Campaign. It is inspired by the People’s Vaccine Alliance and Free the Vaccine campaigns globally.

Our government’s poor record of public service delivery, widespread corruption and mismanagement, as well as the profiteering by the pharmaceutical industry, private healthcare and other corporate interests are key contributors to the dire state of our health system, as well as risks to the equitable vaccine access required. Recent lack of transparency about the vaccine plans and delays in securing access to supplies have built little trust.

We need a people’s movement to participate actively in the discussions to shape and provide oversight to the national vaccination roll-out programme. The role of labour (especially front-line workers), civil society, social movements, communities and people’s organisations is crucial to defeat the pandemic. 

Why Do We Need a United Response?

1) South Africa’s Unequal Health Systems 

South Africa is the most unequal country in the world. Our healthcare systems demonstrate this: half of our healthcare expenditure serves only 16% of the population. The other half covers 84% of our people, mainly the poor and black working class. While the combined resources are critical to the success of a People’s Vaccine Campaign, without collaborative coordination free from predatory and profiteering practices, we will not see the end of this pandemic.

2) Gendered Disparities 

Women are generally overburdened by health and care in society, and also suffer disproportionately from illness, poverty and violence. Continued delays in the vaccine roll-out risks deepening the gendered divide, and increasing their exposure to the virus and burden of responsibility for caring for their family in the event of infection and death.

3) Austerity in a Pandemic is disastrous

The scale of the required roll-out requires massive funding for the public health system. Yet, the government remains committed to austerity, with National Treasury cutting R3.9-billion in real terms from Public Health budget in February 2020. While 2018 estimates put vacancies in the public health system at 37 000, those won’t be filled with such drastic cuts in the budget.

4) The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (Trips)

The World Trade Organization (WTO) maintains patent monopolies, controlling information about how to make the vaccine. This prevents South Africa from being able to make and distribute affordable vaccines. Trips (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) must be suspended for all vaccine-related information. 

5) Vaccine Nationalism and Xenophobia

Many countries are addressing the pandemic on a narrow, nationalist basis. Wealthy nations in Europe, Canada and the US have pre-ordered large numbers of vaccine doses which exceed the need of their own populations. Some countries are refusing to vaccinate migrants and asylum seekers or populations under their occupation. The vaccine must be for all of us. 

6) Community Healthcare Workers (CHW)

Thousands of CHWs have been recruited, but their employment is insecure, irregular and low-paid. The majority of CHWs are women are overburdened with precarious employment. They must have immediate vaccine access and guaranteed job security.  

7) Disinformation and Vaccine Skepticism 

The rise of misinformation, science denialism, anti-vaxxer sentiments and vaccine hesitancy presents an incredibly worrying picture. Skepticism of government, the pharmaceutical industry and the private health sector creates fertile ground for opportunism and fear-mongering. 

Towards a People’s Vaccine Campaign

We are building a campaign to ensure equitable access to vaccines for everyone. Without widespread vaccination, we will not be able to end this pandemic. We must: 

Pressure the Government to Build the Public Health System and Reverse Austerity

There must be increased health spending to build the capacity of the national health system, and National Health Insurance (NHI) to ensure decent and equal healthcare for all. 

This includes full-time public sector employment for CHWs and the appointment of additional nurses. The terms and conditions of the 2018 PSCBC (Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council) collective agreement should be restored. Additionally, the socioeconomic impact of Covid-19 and inequality in our country makes the implementation of a Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) now nothing less than a dire necessity. 

Mobilise Civil Society to Demand Meaningful Representation 

We must lobby for the inclusion of civil society and communities in various stakeholder forums where plans for the roll-out of vaccines are being formulated. We can campaign and educate communities about vaccines and monitor implementation to call out any form of inequity, unfairness, corruption, theft, mismanagement or even inefficiencies. 

Combat the Wave of Anti-Vaccine Disinformation 

We learnt with HIV that disinformation amidst distrust, uncertainty and fear costs lives. This requires national information and educative engagement on all platforms. Lives depend on building public health education with many stakeholders. 

Support Price Regulation, Control and Price Transparency of ALL Vaccines

We support measures that seek to ensure that the WTO, rich countries and the pharmaceutical industry do not continue to enforce Intellectual Property laws, patent and pricing barriers that undermine universal access to vaccines, and thereby also limit mass immunisation. We support the call for the vaccine to be declared a ‘public good’.

Let us join together to help grow a People’s Vaccine Campaign for South Africa 

To endorse, please add your details here:

For inquiries, please contact: [email protected]

Follow for updates: Facebook: C19 People’s Coalition

Twitter: @CovidCoalition

Organisational Endorsements: (Last updated – 13/01/2021)

– Active Citizens Movement 

– African Alliance

– African Centre for Biodiversity

– Ahmed Kathrada Foundation 

– Alternative Information Development Centre

– Amandla Collective

– ASRI (Auwal Socio-Economic Research Institute)

– Bench Marks Foundation (BMF)

– Black Sash

– Botshabelo Unemployed Movement

– Bryanston 2 CAN

– C19 People’s Coalition Basic Needs Working Group

– C19 People’s Coalition Cash Transfers Working Group

– C19 People’s Coalition Gauteng

– C19 People’s Coalition Health Working Group

– C19 People’s Coalition Media Group

– C19 People’s Coalition Workers’ Rights Working Group

– Cancer Alliance (Representing 29 Organisations)

– Centre for Education Rights and Transformation

– Centre for Social Change – University of Johannesburg.

– Children’s Resource Centre 

– Children’s Rights Ministry

– Christian Development Trust Foundation (CDTF)

– Citizen Surveys


– Democracy Development Program

– Democratic Municipal and Allied Workers Union of South Africa (DEMAWUSA)

– Denis Hurley Centre

– DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence in Food Security – UWC

– Equal Education 

– Extinction Rebellion South Africa

– Fight Inequality Alliance South Africa

– Gauteng Housing Crisis Committee

– Global South Against Xenophobia (GSAX)

– Health Justice Initiative

– Human Rights Forum 

– Human Rights Institute of South Africa 

– Institute for Economic Justice

– Institute for Economic Research on Innovation

– Institute for Poverty, Land & Agrarian Studies (PLAAS), UWC

– Inyanda National Land Movement

– Johannesburg Against Injustice 

– Kensington CAN (Johannesburg)

– Khanyisa Education and Development Trust

– Lameze Abrahams Psychologists

– Lawyers For Human Rights

– Legal Resources Centre

– Maitland Garden Village Housing Forum

– Marikana Support Campaign

– Masifundise Development Trust

– Media Monitoring Africa

– Molly Smit Events

– Mopani Farmers Association

– National Labour & Economic Development Institute (NALEDI)

– National Union of Care Workers of South Africa (NUCWOSA)

– Nkuzi Development Association (NPC)

– Norwood, Orange grove And Houghton (NOAH) CAN

– Open Secrets

– Palestine Solidarity Campaign

– Pan African Chamber of commerce

– People’s Health Movement – South Africa

– Progressive Health Forum

– Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM)

– Public Services International 

– Rural Health Advocacy Project a division of WITS Health Consortium

– SA BDS Coalition

– School of Public Health, University of the Western Cape

– SEATINI – South Africa 


– Seriti Institute

– Siyakholwa Support Centre

– Socio-economic Rights Institute of South Africa

– South Africa Rural Women’s Assembly

– South African Council of Churches Gauteng

– South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU)

– Southern African Green Revolutionary Council (SAGRC)

– Tafelsig Mitchells Plain CAN 

– TB Proof

– The Desmond Tutu Health Foundation

– Trust for Community Outreach Education

– University of Kwa-Zulu Natal

– Vaccine Advocacy Resource Group

– Wattville CAN

– Western Cape Forum for Intellectual Disability

– WoMin African Alliance

– Workers’ World Media Productions

– Young Hearts for Palestine 

– Young Nurses Indaba Trade Union (YNITU)

– Youth in Action – Middledrift

Let us join together to help grow a People’s Vaccine Campaign for South Africa.

To endorse, please add your details here

For inquiries, please contact: [email protected]