John Steenhuisen covid-19 vaccine

DA Leader John Steenhuisen. Photo: Screenshot

COVID-19 vaccine: Constitutionality of ‘unrealistic’ strategy challenged

Steenhuisen insisted that the vaccine strategy announced by government is wildly unrealistic, and has written to Ramaphosa for answers.

John Steenhuisen covid-19 vaccine

DA Leader John Steenhuisen. Photo: Screenshot

Democratic Alliance (DA) leader John Steenhuisen announced on Monday 18 January that the opposition party will be sending President Cyril Ramaphosa a legal letter that outlines how his administration’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout strategy is unconstitutional, and also demands that Ramaphosa provide a breakdown of the costs and logistics required to make a success of the programme. 

Steenhuisen was resolute in his view that the vaccine rollout strategy announced by government is wildly unrealistic, and warned that should government not act quickly to remedy the consequences of having “been caught sleeping”, the country will be damned to fight third and fourth waves of the virus while the economy continues to crumble. 

Steenhuisen: ‘Government would have no chance of rolling out vaccine programme’

Speaking via a virtual address to the public on Monday, Steenhuisen said that the plan announced by Ramaphosa is doomed for failure due to the vague timeframes and logistical outlines that have been presented. He said that if the rollout doesn’t not begin imminently, the whole exercise will ultimately be rendered futile.

“To achieve herd immunity, we need to vaccinate two thirds of our population, around 40 million people,” he said. “Government has boldly committed to doing so by the end of this year. Even if we already had every single vaccine that we needed government would have no chance of rolling out such a massive programme in this timeframe.”

“They would have to vaccinate – at the very least – 115 000 people every single day for the next 347 days, and possibly far more as some of the vaccines require multiple doses.” 

Adding to this, Steenhuisen said that it remains unclear to what extent vaccines have actually been negotiated with the various institutions that government has engaged, and said that this demands a response from government. 

In light of the glaring numerical inconsistencies in the vaccine rollout strategy, Steenhuisen said that the courts will now need to be engaged. 

“If the president does not provide a full plan that covers all the quantities and timelines, we are going to have no choice but to ask the courts to compel him to do so,” he said. “Today, the President will be receiving a letter from our lawyers setting out the extent to which government strategy does not meet the constitutional requirements for a comprehensive vaccine rollout programme, in that it violates several constitutional provisions.”

He cited various sections of the constitution that he believes have been violated by government’s approach to vaccine procurement. 

“The failure to provide one or more COVID-19 vaccines timeously when these vaccines are available is a violation of people’s rights in terms of Section 27(1) of the constitution – to have access to healthcare services. It is also a violation of government’s responsibility in terms of Section 27(2) – to take reasonable measures to achieve the progressive realisation of the right to access healthcare, as well as a violation of the right to life.”

Ramaphosa given seven days to respond 

He suggested that as time goes by, the limited supply of vaccines arriving in South Africa will merely present government with an opportunity to continue to enforce lockdowns, which Steenhuisen maintained are themselves a violation of the constitution. 

“This failure will no doubt be used by government to justify extension after extension of the disaster management act and its regulations, which infringe on almost every right in the Bill of Rights, including the right to human dignity, freedom of the person, privacy, free practice of religion and culture, freedom of movement, free practice of one’s occupation, property and education.”

He said that the DA has requested that Ramaphosa reply within seven days, and demand that he explain “why, in his view, government has not infringed on these constitutional privileges”. 

“We have also asked him to set out the details of government’s negotiations with vaccine suppliers for the sake of transparency. This reply must include the dates and minutes of all the meetings with the suppliers,” he said.  

“We also need to see a breakdown of government’s budget for both the acquisition and rollout of the vaccines, covering private funds, public funds, donor funds and loans.”