The shortage of vaccines is a serious threat to South Africa’s livestock industry. – Photo -

By Nicole Ludolph

The shortage of animal vaccines spells an impending disaster for Mzansi’s vibrant livestock industry if it does not get rectified soon. The shortage comes as the country’s primary vaccine provider, Onderstepoort Biological Products (OBP), is experiencing production issues.

OBP is a state-owned company whose mandate is to produce vaccines for the prevention and control animal diseases that impact food security, human health and livelihoods. It is critical for the sustainability of South Africa’s livestock industry and experts are worried that further delays in fixing the problem can lead to the deterioration of herd immunity, resulting in serious disease outbreaks.

In a meeting with the Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, Thoko Didiza, representatives of the National Animal Health Forum (NAHF) highlighted the dangers of inconsistent vaccine availability. This included the threat to national herd immunity, food security, income security and the threat of zoonosis, (the passing of animal diseases on to humans).

The NAHF comprises of key stakeholders including Agri SA, the Red Meat Producers’ Organisation (RPO), the South African Poultry Organisation and the African Farmers’ Association of South Africa (Afasa).

Dire consequences
According to Gerhard Schutte, chairman of the NAHF and chief executive of RPO, given the country having experienced vaccine shortages throughout 2021 already, the continued shortage will compromise herd immunity of livestock in the country.

“We already had a year or so where some of these vaccines were not available. If we don’t rectify that very, very shortly, herd immunity will just deteriorate further and then we will have serious outbreaks,” Schutte says.

Some of the shortages farmers and veterinarians experienced, were vaccines for Rift Valley fever (RVF), blue tongue, African redwater, lumpy skin disease and horse diseases like African horse sickness (AHS). Rift Valley fever is a highly infectious zoonotic disease, that it is transmittable to human beings. In the case of AHS, OBP is the only manufacturer of the vaccine in the country.

Livestock exports under threat
The livestock industry contributes about 50% of the agricultural gross domestic product (GDP) and its hugely important export activities can be jeopardised by vaccine shortages.

Schutte says if certain vaccines were not available, trade with international partners would be halted very quickly.

“For instance, we export livestock for slaughtering purposes to the Middle East. 60 000 sheep go onto a ship. When that ship leaves, [the animals] must be vaccinated for blue tongue and Rift Valley fever. If there is no vaccine available, we are compromising our exports.”
Fortunately, South Africa has not had an outbreak of Rift Valley fever this year. If there were to be an outbreak without the vaccine, it could spell disaster, according to Schutte.

“If we have an outbreak of Rift Valley fever, many of our trade partners will stop imports overnight, especially on the wool and the mohair side. On the meat side as well. This is really impacting on all the livestock industries.”

Ongoing issues at Onderstepoort
The OBP’s communications specialist, Zipho Linda, says vaccine supply challenges have been with the entity for the past ten years, “mainly due to equipment breakdown. Equipment is aged and is currently being replaced.”

She says OBP has a medium to long-term plan to address the inconsistency of vaccine availability.

Meanwhile, the NAHF has recommended the OBP speeds up registrations under the Fertilisers, Farm Feeds, Seeds and Remedies Act 36 of 1947, which allows intellectual property (IP) sharing. This, they reckon, willenable private companies to play a bigger role in the sector.
“We have OBP producing vaccines, but we can’t rely only on them, especially if there’s been a track record of non-production or non-availability,” says Schutte.

“So, the private sector must play a very big part in future. That is risk mitigation and it’s also good in terms of [price] competitiveness.”
Involving the private sector means that OBP would need to release the intellectual property for some of its vaccines. This could potentially ease the issues around production, Schutte reckons.

Intellectual property debate
Schutte feels IP sharing will be in the national interest. “Some of the private companies already have those [vaccines] but they are not registered. They should be so they [can] be put in a position to produce the vaccines as well.

“The solution is: speed up the registrations [so] private enterprise can come to the table. There are quite a few vaccine-producing companies in South Africa very high-tech and that can come to the table very quickly.”

The NAHF has also pledged to look into mechanisms that allow for the emergency registrations of vaccines within the ambit of the Medicines and Related Substances Act No. 101 of 1965 as well as the Animal Diseases Act 35 of 1984.

However, Linda says the country’s vaccine manufacturing industry is an open market.

“OBP supplies the market with approved and registered vaccines. A number of other private manufacturing companies also participate in the market with registered and non-registered vaccines.

“As a public company that has invested in research and development of its vaccines, OBP has the right to protect its intellectual property.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *