South Africa's Vaccine Roll-Out Failings Expose the Hollowing Out of the State

South African Health Minister Zweli Mkhize (file photo).

A lot rests on leadership to bridge the yawning gap between political rhetoric and real roll-out - to address the government's pathological, systemic failure to walk the talk.

Following 17 phone calls with the CEO of the drugmaker Pfizer, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced in January 2021 that he had secured an agreement for Israel to roll out Covid-19 vaccinations. In a deal whereby the Jewish state would serve as a "model country" for Pfizer by offering statistical data on the vaccine's effectiveness, within two months more than five million people, exceeding half of Israel's population, had been vaccinated.

Cut to South Africa where less than 0.5% of the population has been vaccinated. Instead of accepting that there was a problem, in March 2021 President Cyril Ramaphosa joined a chorus of African and other leaders criticising "vaccine apartheid". "Vaccine apartheid must come to an end," said Ramaphosa, criticising developed countries for hogging vaccines.

Admitting that his government "had lost a little bit of time", by that stage South Africa's health system had failed to administer a single dose outside of vaccine trials of a drug not yet approved by its own health authorities. After months of promises of a vaccine...

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