[*Please note that this is the abridged version, for the full statement and updated list of endorsements, please see here*] The COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc in South Africa and globally, millions 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, while unity in action across all sectors of our society is now urgent. We need vigilance and solidarity to slow the rate of infection and to ensure that health facilities are not overwhelmed. The reported acquisition of 1,5 million doses of C-19 vaccines for frontline health care workers is welcomed, but this must be the start of urgently acquiring millions more. It is estimated that between 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 now 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. While recent lack of transparency about the vaccine plans and delays in securing access to supplies have built little trust.
A people’s movement must 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) SA’s Unequal Health System(s)
SA is the most unequal country in the world. Our healthcare system(s) symbolize this with half of our healthcare expenditure serving only 16% of the population. The other half covering 84% of our people, mainly the poor and black working class. While the combined resources of both 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 generally carry the greater burden of 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 both 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 SA and others from being able to make and distribute affordable vaccines. TRIPS 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 USA 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 who 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. While skepticism of government, the pharmaceutical industry and of the private health sector has created 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 collective agreement should be restored. In addition, in face of the socio-economic impact of Covid-19 and inequality in our country, the implementation of a Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) is 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 as well as 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/AIDS that disinformation amidst distrust, uncertainty and fear costs lives. This requires national information and educative engagement on all platforms. Lives now depend on building public health education in many languages and 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 immunization.
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.
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