South Africa denied Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson from delivering additional vaccines. A day later, on November 25, the omicron variant was detected in the country. Before the new variant was detected, South Africa claimed it had vaccinated 35% of the population, but their stockpile was building due to vaccine hesitancy. However, the African Union had planned to buy 220 million doses from Johnson & Johnson through Aspen Pharmacare. South Africa had also promised to purchase large quantities from Pfizer. A representative from Pfizer said, “We remain adaptable to individual country’s vaccine requirements whilst continuing to meet our quarterly commitments as per the South Africa supply agreement.”
Travel bans were immediately placed on South Africa and surrounding countries with lower vaccination rates. The variant has since been detected in Belgium, Israel, Germany, Canada, Italy, Hong Kong, and elsewhere. However, none of those nations faced a travel ban. The South African government released a statement saying that they are being “punished”:
“This latest round of travel bans is akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker. Excellent science should be applauded and not punished. The global community needs collaboration and partnerships in the management of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Even the World Health Organization has warned world leaders not to impose immediate travel restrictions. The South African government is urging nations to reconsider the travel ban, but the number of nations to implement a ban multiplied after omicron was announced. If the ban were solely due to health concerns, countries would also ban travel from other places where the variant is present. South Africa is potentially being punished for disobeying the larger agenda.