In January, after human rights activists had exposed the state’s failed vaccine procurement strategy, Barry Schoub, head of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Covid Vaccines, castigated them, saying “the availability of a Covid-19 vaccine will not be a magic wand”, and accused them of “dangerously threatening the public motivation to continue with non-pharmaceutical interventions”.

Three months later after the AstraZeneca vaccine debacle, Prof. Schoub took his hatchet to highly respected Shabir Mahdi and five peers for raising “deep ethical concerns” about government’s behaviour. One of the six, Francois Venter, had earlier asked: “Why are we sending away 1.5-million [AstraZeneca] vaccines, and on what basis — the bottom line is we could have vaccinated 1-million vulnerable people? [...] There are enough vulnerable people to have rolled this out urgently.”

In an acerbic response, reported in this newspaper in April, Prof. Schoub accused the six of undermining public trust in the state, wasting state resources, and risking the emergence of escape variants (“State vaccines head blasts experts who called for AstraZeneca rollout in SA”, April 12).

Now, a further three months later — with the vaccine rollout still in disarray, a tougher lockdown, terrible scenes of death and suffering, and hospitals overwhelmed — the government’s hatchet man is at it again. This time his target is Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein, whose moving article (“Our leaders prove immune to vaccination efforts”, Business Day, June 29) urged the government to recognise “the heartbreaking amount of illness and death that [the third wave] has wrought” and which “could have been averted had [the government] handled the vaccine rollout effectively”.

Prof. Schoub’s counter is his most vicious and of a callousness befitting the government’s vaccine efforts (“Undermining the vaccine programme helps no-one”, July 1). He accuses Goldstein of deceit (without citing evidence) and of undermining trust in the state and thereby causing the very pain and suffering SA is enduring. Cold to the call that the people in charge of the vaccine rollout atone to society, not one word of empathy is expressed for the dead, or the dying gasping for breath because there were no vaccines, the orphaned children, and the families who have lost their breadwinners and don’t know where to turn. 

Frans Cronje

Institute of Race Relations

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