The Economic Sense and Sensibility of Plugging the Astrazenica Vaccine Gap, Fast

With South Africa’s Covid-19 vaccination campaign being placed on hold for now, the country must do everything within its power to find a solution, fast. Vaccinating as many people as quickly as possible will not just prevent more South Africans from getting sick, dying, and infecting others; it is also critical to save the economy, businesses, and livelihoods whilst boosting social development levels. This, too, will save lives: our dire macro and microeconomic situation affecting millions of already vulnerable men, women, and children. 

Besides 1.5 million infections, some 45,000 deaths, and thousands of recovered patients suffering from long-term and debilitating post-Covid health problems such as heart damage and neurological issues, the pandemic has been catastrophic for South Africa’s economy. This, too, is claiming lives. 

The fact the AstraZeneca vaccines South Africa received earlier this month are ineffective against protecting people from the 501Y.V2 mutation, and are near their expiration date, is making the situation even more problematic. The longer it takes to speed up a full-blown Covid-19 vaccination campaign, the longer it will take before economic, financial, and social recovery can occur, said Discovery Health CEO Ryan Noach. He spoke during a recent multi-stakeholder webinar around the role of vaccines in economic and social recovery, organised by youth development non-profit company (NPC), Afrika Tikkun. 

“Achieving herd immunity as soon as possible has an immediate impact on the macroeconomy. It helps our GDP grow, and businesses work and hire again. Vaccinating saves lives from all sides, hence the rush and urgency to get it done,” Noach said during the webinar, of which other speakers included Afrika Tikkun Group CEO, Marc Lubner and Professor Bonang Mohale, Chancellor of the University of the Free State.

Mohale agreed with Noach. “Our debt stands at R3 trillion, we are borrowing R2.1 billion per day, and our debt to GDP ratio is 93%. Including government guarantees to state-owned enterprises, this ratio rises to 103%. Last year’s GDP growth won’t exceed -7%,” he explained. “The figure that should really frighten us is our unemployment rate, which stood at around 40% before COVID-19 for the general population and north of 60% for youths. When you include individuals, who have given up their job hunt, and the 2.5 million jobs shed in 2020, it looks like we will lose more people through socio-economic devastation than through the virus.”

A successful vaccination campaign’s key pillar is solid partnerships between government, private businesses, civil society, and other stakeholders, Lubner stressed. The first reason is that everyone, from the private and public sector to communities, benefits from the social, health and economic implications of a swift and efficient vaccine rollout. Besides that, partnerships are the only way to deal with complex problems like this one.

“Only through collaboration can we deal with the mess we are finding ourselves in,” Lubner said. “Instead of pointing fingers, we need to accept where we are today, work towards a future together, and do what we can to push egos and bureaucracy aside. We don’t have the time to allow egos to stand in the way, as this is literally a situation of life and death.”

Mohale concurred. Another reason businesses’ involvement is pivotal is because they have the capacity and expertise to help roll out large-scale projects. “Companies are good at managing mega-projects, on time and within the budget. Take Anheuser-Busch InBev, the old SAB Miller. It supplies twice as many shebeens as there are schools in the country. They deliver successfully to each of these businesses every single week,” he explained. “We also have massive courier and logistics companies that have cold trucks that can maintain the cold chain to keep the vaccines safe.”

Collaboration between government and other stakeholders is not just essential to fast-track a speedy vaccine rollout, but also to combat the pandemic’s vast and far-reaching socio-economic implications, Lubner added. “There is an enormous need to educate, skill, and train our youth for job opportunities. All stakeholders must continue to join hands as this will be the only way to move forward as a country,” he said, taking Afrika Tikkun’s Cradle to Career youth development model as a case in point.  

This approach addresses young people’s needs across the different stages of their lives, from early childhood to post-matric, focusing on key pillars such as family, health, food security, psychosocial and inclusivity. The Afrika Tikkun’s centres operate in townships across the country, providing education, health, and social services to more than 20 000 beneficiaries.

“We can’t eradicate poverty and unemployment if we don’t look at the broader context of these issues. On the other side, we won’t be able to tackle this broader and often extraordinarily complex context we are dealing with if we work in our own silo. That is why we work with businesses, government, and communities. It is the fastest and most efficient way to change and save lives, structurally.”

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About Afrika Tikkun NPC

Tikkun, as Afrika Tikkun was formerly known, was founded in 1994 by the late Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris and philanthropist/businessman Dr Bertie Lubner. Initially, the focus of the organisation was on meeting the day-to-day needs of children. Renamed MaAfrika Tikkun and later Afrika Tikkun NPC, the organisation evolved to provide a holistic development model in disadvantaged communities, with a focus on Early Childhood Development, Child and Youth Development, and Career Development, better known as the Cradle to Career 360° model. This model, unique to Afrika Tikkun, is aimed at providing education, health, and social services to young people and their families through centres of excellence in South African underprivileged communities. Their main goal is to create a sustainable future for the youth of South Africa, and the credibility of this cause won the support of the Patron-in-Chief in memoriam, Nelson Mandela. Afrika Tikkun NPC has four centres of excellence across Gauteng and one in the Western Cape. 

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