Covid-19 vaccines, vital medicine lost as more than 90 pharmacies destroyed

Police confront protesters in a supermarket in Alexandra, Johannesburg.
Police confront protesters in a supermarket in Alexandra, Johannesburg.
Image: Alaister Russell/The Sunday Times

“Distraught and disappointed”. This is how the South African Pharmacy Council felt after the destruction and looting of more than 90 pharmacies in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.

Council CEO and registrar Vincent Tlala said on Wednesday afternoon the looted items included Covid-19 vaccines and scheduled medicines which could cause harm if administered without the guidance of a pharmacist. 

He said the destruction of these healthcare services would hurt the livelihoods of the people who depended on the medication dispensed, as well as the people who worked in and owned the businesses.

“As at Wednesday, we have received reports from pharmacists and pharmacy associations that, in both provinces, more than 90 pharmacies have been destroyed and looted beyond revival, with KwaZulu-Natal being the hardest hit.

“Among the looted items are Covid-19 vaccines and scheduled medicines, which when used without proper pharmacist counselling on storage and dosage may result in harm to one’s health.

“We urge those who looted these medicines and health products to not use them or give them to other persons but to rather return them to their nearest pharmacy for proper disposal.”

Tlala cautioned the public to source medicines from legitimate health establishments such as pharmacies.

“We are worried at the loss of pharmaceutical care that the affected areas will experience as a result of the temporary and, in most cases, prolonged closures of pharmacies, as most of the pharmacies that are affected are independently owned.

“We are further disappointed at the possible loss of employment and livelihoods for pharmacists and support personnel employed by the affected pharmacies.”

The council called on South Africans to refrain from destructing healthcare infrastructure or disrupting healthcare services, saying that such actions reversed the difficult gains made in increasing the accessibility of healthcare services to previously underserved communities in the country.

“It also puts the lives of citizens in these communities at risk,” he said.