Covid Vaccines Produced in Africa Are Being Exported to Europe

Johnson & Johnson’s Covid vaccine was supposed to be one of Africa’s most important weapons against the coronavirus.

The New Jersey-based company agreed to sell enough of its inexpensive single-shot vaccine to eventually inoculate a third of the continent’s residents. And the vaccine would be produced in part by a South African manufacturer, raising hopes that those doses would quickly go to Africans.

That has not happened.

South Africa is still waiting to receive the overwhelming majority of the 31 million vaccine doses it ordered from Johnson & Johnson. It has administered only about two million Johnson & Johnson shots. That is a key reason that fewer than 7 percent of South Africans are fully vaccinated — and that the country was devastated by the Delta variant.

At the same time, Johnson & Johnson has been exporting millions of doses that were bottled and packaged in South Africa for distribution in Europe, according to executives at Johnson & Johnson and the South African manufacturer, Aspen Pharmacare, as well as South African government export records reviewed by The New York Times.

donated by the United States. But about four million of the country’s 60 million residents are fully vaccinated.

That left the population vulnerable when a third wave of cases crested over the country. At times in recent months, scores of Covid-19 patients at Helen Joseph Hospital in Johannesburg were waiting in the emergency department for a bed, and the hospital’s infrastructure struggled to sustain the huge volumes of oxygen being piped into patients’ lungs, said Dr. Jeremy Nel, an infectious-disease doctor there.

“The third wave, in terms of the amount of death we saw, was the most heartbreaking, because it was the most avoidable,” Dr. Nel said. “You see people by the dozens dying, all of whom are eligible for a vaccine and would’ve been among the first to get it.”

a United Nations-backed clearinghouse for vaccines that has fallen behind on deliveries. South Africa was slow to enter negotiations with manufacturers for its own doses. In January, a group of vaccine experts warned that the government’s “lack of foresight” could cause “the greatest man-made failure to protect the population since the AIDS pandemic.”

announced in November. Aspen’s facility in Gqeberha, on South Africa’s southern coast, was the first site in Africa to produce Covid vaccines. (Other companies subsequently announced plans to produce vaccines on the continent.)

South African officials hailed Aspen’s involvement as indispensable.

Aspen “belongs to us as South Africans, and it is making lifesaving vaccines,” South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, said during a visit to Aspen’s plant in March. He said he had pushed Johnson & Johnson to prioritize the doses made there for Africans.

“I want them now,” Mr. Ramaphosa added. “I’ve come to fetch our vaccines.”

results of a clinical trial suggested that the vaccine from AstraZeneca offered little protection from mild or moderate infections caused by the Beta variant that was circulating in South Africa.

Weeks later, Johnson & Johnson and the government signed a contract for 11 million doses. South Africa ordered another 20 million doses in April. That would be enough to vaccinate about half the country.

South Africa agreed to pay $10 per dose for the 11 million shots, according to the contract. That was the same price that the United Statespaid and slightly more than the $8.50 that the European Commission agreed to pay. The South African contract prohibited the government from banning exports of the vaccine, citing the need for doses to “move freely across national borders.”

introduced export controls this year to conserve scarce supplies. India halted exports produced by the Serum Institute, which was supposed to be a major vaccine supplier to poor countries. In the United States, officials said they didn’t ban exports, but they didn’t need to. The combination of the extensive vaccine production on American soil and the high prices the U.S. government was willing to pay meant that companies made the delivery of shots for Americans a priority.

Other benefits for Johnson & Johnson were embedded in the South African contract.

While such contracts typically protect companies from lawsuits brought by individuals, this one shielded Johnson & Johnson from suits by a wider range of parties, including the government. It also imposed an unusually high burden on potential litigants to show that any injuries caused by the vaccine were the direct result of company representatives engaging in deliberate misconduct or failing to follow manufacturing best practices.

“The upshot is that you have moved almost all of the risk of something being wrong with the vaccine to the government,” said Sam Halabi, a health law expert at Georgetown University who reviewed sections of the South African contract at the request of The Times.

Mr. Halabi said the contract’s terms appeared more favorable to the pharmaceutical company than other Covid vaccine contracts he had seen. South African officials have said Pfizer, too, sought aggressive legal protections.

The contract said Johnson & Johnson would aim to deliver 2.8 million doses to South Africa by the end of June, another 4.1 million doses by the end of September and another 4.1 million doses by the end of December. (The government expects the 20 million additional doses to be delivered by the end of this year, Mr. Maja said.)

The company has so far fallen far short of those goals. As of the end of June, South Africa had received only about 1.5 million of the doses from its order. The small number of doses that have been delivered to the African Union were on schedule.

The difficulties in procuring doses have revealed the limits of fill-and-finish sites, which leave countries dependent on vaccines from places like the European Union or the United States, said Dr. Salim Abdool Karim, who until March was co-chairman of South Africa’s ministerial advisory committee on Covid.

“Ultimately,” he said, “the solution to our problem has to be in making our own vaccines.”

Lynsey Chutel and Choe Sang-Hun contributed reporting.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

South African President Appears Before Corruption Investigators

JOHANNESBURG — Three years ago, amid a flurry of corruption scandals that rocked South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa assumed power on promises to root out graft and restore public confidence in the governing party, the African National Congress.

But over the past year, those efforts have been threatened by a brazen show of defiance from his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, who has snubbed a commission investigating graft during his tenure, refused to appear before the country’s highest court and lobbed attacks on its judges.

Mr. Ramaphosa appeared before corruption investigators himself on Wednesday to account for his party’s scandals and sought to reinforce his vision for a corruption-free A.N.C. His appearance sent a message to a disillusioned nation: No one in South Africa — even a sitting president — is above the law.

“When I was confirming that I would be appearing, I happened to be talking to one of my colleagues who is also a head of state,” Mr. Ramaphosa said in his opening statement. “His reaction was, ‘Ah, how can you do that as head of state?’ I said: ‘This is how our democracy works.’”

from state coffers during Mr. Zuma’s tenure, according to government estimates.

Mr. Ramaphosa’s testimony on Wednesday is the first in four days of questioning at the South African Commission on State Capture, an inquiry into the endemic graft during that period. He was called to answer questions both in his role as the current leader of the A.N.C. and as Mr. Zuma’s former deputy.

As part of its broad probe, the panel is investigating whether the current president was directly involved in corruption in his previous role overseeing the A.N.C.’s deployment of often unqualified loyalists to key government positions. Those appointments, according to testimony to the commission, contributed to the hollowing out of the state and led to backdoor deals that drained public funds.

His testimony comes as the inquiry prepares to deliver its final report in June and as Mr. Zuma — the center of the investigation — has staunchly resisted calls to appear before investigators.

In recent months, the former president defied a court order to appear before the commission, prompting its chief investigator to seek a two-year prison sentence for contempt of court. When the country’s top court heard that case last month, Mr. Zuma again refused to appear — a move that many saw as an open challenge to the country’s democratic institutions.

Mr. Zuma, who denies all accusations against him, has accused the corruption inquiry’s leader, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, of harboring a personal vendetta, and has attacked the investigation itself.

“What we’ve seen the last couple of months is an attack led by Jacob Zuma on the constitutional system,” said William Gumede, the chairman of the Democracy Works Foundation, a South African nonprofit group. “This is really a moment in our country where we have to decide if we are either for constitutional democracy or we reject it fully.”

The stark contrast between Mr. Zuma’s and Mr. Ramaphosa’s willingness to engage with the commission reflects an escalating showdown within the A.N.C., Nelson Mandela’s once-celebrated movement for liberation which has governed the country since apartheid ended in 1994.

In recent years, the party has become deeply divided between those loyal to Mr. Zuma — and his vision of a liberation party that stands above the law — and those who support Mr. Ramaphosa’s efforts to overhaul it.

“Both represent two different faces of the party, the democratic and the undemocratic. Both are battling for the soul of the A.N.C.,” Mr. Gumede said.

In his testimony on Wednesday, Mr. Ramaphosa offered a thinly veiled but damning condemnation of Mr. Zuma and his allies who are also under investigation for graft, which Mr. Ramaphosa, analysts and watchdog groups have said remains a problem within the party’s ranks.

Many have been emboldened by Mr. Zuma’s recent defiance in efforts to hold officials accountable. They include another top A.N.C. official, Ace Magashule, who has refused to step down from his current post despite corruption charges prosecutors recently laid against him. He denies the charges.

“The position of the A.N.C. on leaders and members who have been complicit in acts of corruption or other crimes: Their actions are a direct violation not only of the laws of the Republic, but also of the A.N.C. constitution, its values and principles,” said Mr. Ramaphosa, sitting before the commission’s chief investigator in a large wood-paneled auditorium. “Such members must face the full legal consequences of their actions.”

View Source

South Africa Court Set to Rule on Jacob Zuma, and an Era of Impunity

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — For nearly three years, South African investigators have been unearthing a web of corruption around the former president, Jacob Zuma, in a public inquiry that has captivated the country.

There were bribes paid in top-shelf whiskey, luxury cars and a cash-stuffed Louis Vuitton bag. High-ranking officials distributed lucrative government contracts in exchange for monthly handouts. That era of graft drained tens of billions of dollars from state coffers and has become one of the most infamous chapters of South Africa’s post-apartheid history.

Now, the country’s highest court will determine whether Mr. Zuma can be held accountable for contempt of court, and for an era of consequence-free corruption, in a hearing that represents one of the greatest tests for South Africa’s democratic institutions in recent years.

“This is an absolutely critical moment: The principle that all people will be equal before the law is being challenged and the constitutional system itself is being challenged,” said William Gumede, chairman of the Democracy Works Foundation, a South African nonprofit group. “Essentially, the former president is saying he is above the law of the country, he is above the Constitution, he is untouchable.”

Mr. Zuma defied a court order to appear before corruption investigators, a move that challenged the legitimacy of South Africa’s legal system and prompted the chief investigator to seek a two-year prison sentence for Mr. Zuma for contempt of court.

The Constitutional Court is unlikely to impose such a harsh sentence when the verdict is announced in the coming weeks. Doing so could trigger mass protests by supporters of Mr. Zuma and destabilize the country as it reels from the worst coronavirus outbreak on the continent, an economy battered by the pandemic and record-high unemployment.

Nonetheless, the hearing itself is seen as an important moment for South Africa, which has been plagued with corruption over the last decade, with few officials held accountable.

The case has also underscored the challenges facing the African National Congress, the party of Nelson Mandela that has governed the country since the end of apartheid in 1994. During Mr. Zuma’s nine-year tenure, the party became consumed by corruption scandals that tarnished its image and sparked public outrage over mismanagement.

Mr. Zuma was ousted from the presidency in 2018, the A.N.C. became increasingly polarized between loyalists of the former president and supporters of his successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, who vowed to crack down on corruption and restore the public’s confidence.

allegations that he took bribes from arms dealers in the 1990s.

“For 15 years or more, Jacob Zuma has been using the strength of the South African court system to put off his day in court” by appealing cases against him, said Richard Calland, a constitutional law professor at the University of Cape Town. “But he is now running out of legal runway. This is the moment where he finally meets his Waterloo legally.”

Mr. Zuma has denied all allegations from both cases. In recent months, he has also accused the corruption inquiry’s leader, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, of harboring a personal vendetta against him, and attacked the investigation itself.

Established in 2018, the investigation is known as the Commission on State Capture, a term that has become a buzzword in South Africa and refers to corruption at such a high level that private groups effectively purchased the power to divert state resources into their own hands.

So far the commission has interviewed more than 250 witnesses in televised hearings that have become a telenovela of sorts about the country’s deep-seated corruption. It is expected to end in June, and deliver a report to South African officials that could include suggestions for prosecution.

siphoned from state coffers during his tenure, which ended in 2018 amid public outrage over graft and bitter infighting within the governing party.

View Source