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SA went against WHO directive to procure AstraZeneca vaccine

The South African government jumped the queue to secure 1 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines – ignoring a directive by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for all countries to receive the Covax vaccines at the same time.

This was the view of epidemiologist Professor Salim Abdool Karim today. Karim was addressing health experts and the media about his views on Covid-19 in memory of the first positive case detected in Durban on March 5 last year.

During his address, Karim listed South Africa as one of the countries in the world which ignored WHO’s orders, entering into a bilateral agreement with India to secure the AstraZeneca vaccines.

“The South African government is one of the countries that jumped the queues and entered into a bilateral agreement, despite the order by the WHO for all countries to receive Covax vaccines at the same time. Was it worth it? I don’t know,” Karim said.

The epidemiologist said South Africa took the decision to secure those doses due to massive internal political pressure.


He said the WHO had instructed all countries to receive vaccines at the same time, to help all of them to suppress the virus. Karim stopped short of attacking the government, but was quick to launch a veiled attack on Western Cape Premier Alan Winde and his provincial cabinet for insisting that they would go ahead alone to obtain vaccines for its citizens.

Without mentioning the Western Cape province by name, Karim said those who wanted to follow that route wanted to treat their provincial boundaries as a “little island”.

“If KwaZulu-Natal province wanted to secure vaccines on its own, a lot of people from other provinces will flock to our province to get vaccinated. South Africa got its vaccines exactly eight days before Uganda got its Covax vaccines,” Karim said.

He made the analogy between the delivery of AstraZeneca vaccines in South Africa and a delivery of Covax vaccines in Uganda eight days later, to support his views that the country bypassed WHO’s instructions.

“The World Health Organisation ordered that all the countries must receive 20% of the vaccines at the same time, but we chose to sacrifice that,” Karim said.

Despite his criticism about the manner in which the first vaccines were obtained, Karim praised the government for its decision to put the country under level 5 lockdown in March last year.

He said the decision, including to ban the sale of alcohol, had significantly reduced infections and the strain on healthcare facilities.

Karim, however, conceded that he was initially opposed to the ban of the sale of cigarettes and alcohol.


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