Building on the positive momentum Webber Wentzel achieved in advising the National Ventilator Project (NVP) last year, the firm earlier this year moved onto assisting with the procurement of Covid-19 vaccines for South Africa.
Last year, Webber Wentzel was asked by Martin Kingston and Stavros Nicolaou of Business For SA (B4SA) to assist in managing the private sector's response to the Covid-19 pandemic. This led to Webber Wentzel joining forces with the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition, the Manufacturers Circle, Zutari, and the scientists of the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory to build 20,000 non-invasive ventilators locally to save the lives of Covid-19 patients. This is known as the National Ventilator Project (NVP).
The team, led by Robert Appelbaum, has to date provided 2,843 hours of advice at no cost on several issues including the choice of outside experts, drafting, negotiation and settlement of the prototype and manufacturing agreements required for the NVP. Webber Wentzel also helped in having the ventilators registered by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA). The NVP is now looking into exporting the non-invasive ventilators, which have other uses besides Covid-19 treatment, which will be a “win” for local manufacturing.
Robert Appelbaum: "The NVP could never have happened without the incredible support of Harald Harvey who is on secondment to the DTIC, Dr Willem Esterhuizen and Dr Rob Adam of SARAO, as well as Minister Ebrahim Patel."
In December 2020, Webber Wentzel was also engaged by the National Department of Health (NDOH) to assist in the drafting of all of the vaccine related agreements which the NDOH was entering. This includes the agreement between the NDOH and the African Union where the AstraZeneca/Serum Institute vaccines were sold to the African Union, the agreement with Jansen (Johnson and Johnson) and that with Pfizer.
In his address to the nation on 30 March, President Ramaphosa confirmed that South Africa had secured an initial 11 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine, which is effective against the dominant variants in South Africa. This agreement has been signed by the parties. In his address to the nation, the President confirmed that the country, through the NDOH, has secured a further additional 20 million doses from J&J. The agreement for the additional doses from J&J is being finalised with J&J. Shortly after the President's address, an agreement with Pfizer for 20 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine (equating to 10 million vaccinations as the Pfizer vaccine requires two doses) was also signed by the NDOH. To date, the government has secured enough doses to vaccinate 41 million people.
"The Webber Wentzel team has contributed an enormous amount of work and commitment, including several ‘all-nighters’, to help get the vaccine procurement programme rolling," Appelbaum said. "While it has been hard going, we have worked with representatives of the NDOH and Treasury who are some of the most committed, hardworking and talented individuals I have ever encountered. Moreover we are receiving incredible satisfaction in knowing that what we are doing is helping to save lives, just as the NVP did."
"My first choice of career was medicine," says Appelbaum. "This project has rekindled my love for and interest in healthcare, and the level of expertise that the team has been able to source internally has bolstered our healthcare advisory team."
Webber Wentzel’s team has acted pro bono on both the NVP and vaccine projects.