Coalition Statement: Johann Rupert and Vaccine Equity

 In C19PC Statements, Media Alert

For Immediate Release
25 January 2021

The recent news of South African billionaire, Johann Rupert, reportedly ‘jostling’ the vaccination queue in Switzerland, is a stark display of the burgeoning vaccine apartheid our world is facing. Most African countries have not yet received the vaccine, this in spite of South Africa being the site for clinical trials of major vaccines. 

As a movement seeking to ensure that South Africa’s response to the Covid-19 crisis is rooted in social justice and democratic principles, the C19 People’s Coalition condemns Mr Rupert’s actions. That Mr Rupert, who is a shareholder of the Hirslanden-Gruppe, was granted the right of access to the vaccine ahead of the Swiss and South African peoples is morally and politically reprehensible. This is contrary to the values and principles we strive for as South Africans, and contrary to the kinds of international fairness and co-operation the people of South Africa have fought to protect. Every person has a right to healthcare services, which includes access to the vaccines; these are not for billionaires or wealthy countries alone. 

We recognise Mr Rupert’s abuse of wealth and power as a symptom of a much deeper crisis in the global response to the pandemic. Every day in our country and across the world, disadvantaged, exploited and vulnerable people, essential workers, and health care workers, who are predominantly women, are left to face this pandemic with hunger, weakened and compromised immune systems and inadequate provision of housing, water, health care, and social safety nets. Privatised international healthcare systems, subject to profit, leave healthcare itself inaccessible to the majority of our country and planet.

Mr Rupert’s queue-jumping also points to the duplicitous vaccine hoarding by wealthy governments. The less than ethical history of western countries conducting business with the Apartheid regime, despite the South African and world’s peoples’ pleas to the contrary during the anti-Apartheid struggle, is well known to us. We cannot allow the progress that has been made towards healing these wrongs since the fall of Apartheid to be squandered. The ways in which vaccines are managed globally are telling us a story about how far we still have to go before acknowledgement of past wrongs translates into commitment to equality, to caring for all the world’s people, in the present. The privileging in providing vaccination to Mr Rupert is a catastrophic show of elitism. We note that such actions place efforts at local and international solidarity at risk. If not addressed, it sets a dangerous precedent of acceptance of class, race and gender preferentialism, and compounds the issue of vaccine nationalism, which the people in South Africa are making efforts to correct.

The vaccines could not exist without public funding and collective international university medical research and expertise. Institutions of learning in South Africa and around the world have been working extremely hard to find solutions to the C19 pandemic for all humanity’s benefit. As well, we note the contribution to the development of the vaccine by some of our people volunteering to trial the vaccine by taking it to aid testing for efficacy and safety. This collective effort should remind us that the vaccine should be fairly distributed to all, beginning with those most at risk. It should not be able to be bought by those who can afford it.  

We request the University of Stellenbosch and St Andrews University in Scotland to rescind Mr Rupert’s honorary doctoral awards with immediate effect. We also call upon the French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs to issue a recommendation to the French president to rescind the ‘Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur’ conferred on Mr Rupert by the President of the French Republic in 2009. 

We support the People’s Vaccine Alliance, Free the Vaccine Alliance, and are part of global People’s Health solidarity networks. We support the call for the vaccine to be declared a ‘public good’. To this end we have partnered towards A People’s Vaccine

We extend our condolences to the families and communities who have lost loved ones to COVID-19. The current crisis leaves us in a state of shock and grieving and we are mindful that it is likely that we will only be able to measure the loss of our people in the years to come. Our clear position is for a redistribution and restructuring of our global health and political economy to afford everyone the right to viable lives and equitable healthcare. 

We will be issuing an Open Letter addressing remaining contextual and more detailed content relating to the crises,  policy, the banning of political gatherings, calls on the WTO to better control the use of patents in the context of vaccine production and calls for the suspension of TRIPS for vaccinations to allow countries to develop vaccines, thereby ensuring affordable and equitable access.  

C19 People’s Coalition 

For comment and more information please contact

Tauriq Jenkins at +27 647 342 569



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