, 05 January, 2021 / 3:39 PM
The leadership of the South African Council of Churches (SACC) has appealed to the government to hasten the access to COVID-19 vaccine to save lives amid a reported new wave of infections in the country.
In a statement dated Monday, January 4, the church leaders say that the COVID-19 vaccine is a public good and that the country cannot afford to wait any longer to access it.
“While we understand that the Vaccine Rollout Strategy represents months of intense work from a research and development perspective, we appeal to Government to pull out all the stops to ensure urgent rollout of the vaccine, which is a public good,” the leaders say in their statement shared by ACI Africa.
They add, “It is cause for significant concern to think that we must continue to watch our people dying as we wait for the first confirmed COVAX vaccines to arrive in the county in the second quarter of the year. If any other steps can be taken to bring vaccines into the country sooner, let there be no human hindrance to that process.”
Government officials in South Africa have been accused of delaying bilateral negotiations with vaccine suppliers, a situation that has been said to further aggravate the state of COVID-19 in the country.
The country has 1.1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, over 30,000 related deaths and 912,000 recoveries.
The officials are said to be skeptical about the vaccine, saying that they cannot “take the risk” of ordering vaccines that may not work.
In response to the allegations, South Africa’s Minister of Health Dr. Zweli Mkhize gave an online presentation outlining the government's plan. He said that the goal was to vaccinate two-thirds of South Africa's 57 million people by the end of the year, beginning in February.
SACC officials have welcomed the Minister’s promise “with relief”, saying that the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out process should be conducted speedily as the number of infections continues to rise.
“We are firmly in the midst of the second wave of infections, categorized by in excess of 18, 000 new cases each day, not to mention the rate of mortality of our people,” the church leaders say in the statement issued by the office of the SACC General Secretary, Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana.
The officials of the interdenominational forum based in Johannesburg add, “There can be no doubt in the minds of any South African that an expedited process in the procurement and distribution of the vaccines is required.”
Some vaccine manufacturers have already offered to supply South Africa with their COVID-19 vaccine at a discounted US$10 a dose, but the office of South Africa’s President has reportedly described the cost as “prohibitive.”
The leaders of the 36-member entity including the Catholic Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Southern Africa appeal to the public-private partnerships “to prioritize the value of human life ahead of profits.”
“It would be disheartening for any partners to position themselves between the only solution available to South Africans to acquire large-scale immunity,” they say.
The church leaders have also called on the South African government to engage with the pharmaceutical companies who have developed the vaccines, and to negotiate for the reduction in costs, without which they say South Africa and other developing countries may not be able to afford to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
“We strongly believe that commercial considerations should not override the value of human life, and this sets an urgent moral obligation at the doorstep of every pharmaceutical company and procurement entity,” the Religious leaders say.
They add, “God forbid that the thought of personal gain and inordinate profits would cross the minds of anyone in the supply chain in the roll-out of the vaccine!”
The SACC leaders have also called upon religious leaders in the country to ensure that the people of God under their care adhere to safety protocols
“As we await the phased roll-out of the vaccine, we call on all churches to sustain the campaign for non-pharmaceutical measures to limit the virus spread,” the leaders urge.
They add, “We should also be prepared to do without much of our customary social practices, including how we relate to death and bereavement, in order to prevent further deaths. These are the only measures we currently have, to keep the people safe as we await the roll-out of the vaccine over the coming months.”
“Let us stand firm in the implementation of these measures, as they have the potential to save lives,” officials of SACC say in their January 4 statement shared with ACI Africa.
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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa