Health Minister Zweli Mkhize on Sunday 3 January 2021 presented South Africa’s COVID-19 Vaccine Strategy. This follows several calls for an urgent rollout of vaccines, including a petition from health workers that has been signed by over 6,000 supporters.
Dr Mkhize explained:
We have always said that the second wave is going to come and that the only way we will be protected is by developing herd immunity through vaccination. Because of that we have been working very hard by following all the research and development that has taken place globally.
At this point we do believe that the issue of rolling out vaccines has to be handled with urgency and that is what has driven us to expedite the availability of vaccines.
We believe that vaccines have to be made available to all the South Africans, starting with front-line health care workers and the most vulnerable to ensure there is protection for them first as the most vulnerable groups.
The vaccines will need to be made available quickly so that most of our citizens are covered by the end of the first year of rollout- this year.
With expert advice, including that from Professor Barry Schoub and MAC on Vaccines, the Health Department has set up structures to expedite financing, sourcing and procurement and therefore the issue of the vaccine strategy will get undivided attention from Department and government.
“We therefore want to assure the public that we are very mindful of the urgency, particularly as we feel the impact of the second wave we are currently experiencing,” said Dr Mkhize.
SA’s vaccine rollout will target a minimum of 67% of the population to achieve herd immunity and the approach will be a phased rollout of the vaccine beginning with the most vulnerable in our population:
South Africa’s COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout Phase One:
Front line health care workers (HCW). Target population: 1,250,000
Essential workers. Target population: 2,500,000
Persons in congregate settings. Target population: 1,100,000
Persons >60 years. Target population: 5,000,000
Persons >18 years with co-morbidities. Target population: 8,000,000
Other persons >18 years. Target population: 22,500,000
“This means that by the end of phase three, 40 350 000 citizens will have been immunized which is equivalent to approximately 67,25% of the population as we have indicated,” said SA’s Health Minister.
Vaccine Doses for 10% secured through COVAX
“At this stage we have secured the doses that will be acquired through COVAX which will ensure that we immunize 10% of the population through this mechanism and, in line with President’s statement, we expect the processes will have delivered the vaccine by beginning of second quarter.
“The funds to pay the outstanding amount after the deposit that has been made by the Solidarity Fund, around 1,8 billion, have been allocated,” said Dr Mkhize.
Sourcing other vaccine doses
“Having secured for 10% of the population, we have embarked on other efforts to get the rest of the 57% of the population to be targeted by the end 2021 but, more importantly we are making efforts to obtain vaccines much earlier, hopefully as early as February 2021. This will very much depend on the success of current bilateral negotiations we are in the midst of with various companies,” said Dr Mkhize.
“Additionally we have embarked on Public Private Partnerships with very good out-comes and we have approached medical aids to be part of the co-financing. The process is now at a stage where the Council for Medical Schemes has engaged various medical schemes and I have signed amendments of regulations to allow for vaccines and other therapeutics to be part of the prescribed minimum benefits
“Business has also been engaged, particularly through Business Unity South Africa (BUSA) And therefore the total financing arrangement will include medical schemes, business and government with an arrangement made with Solidarity fund to provide a platform for collection of funds and for expedited and controlled procurement processes.
“To optimize availability of stock for ourselves we are negotiating with all the manufacturers and pursuing those who are indicating appetite to make vaccines available sooner. We are in sensitive discussions and at this stage are bound by Non Disclosure Agreements but we will make announcements as soon as negotiations are concluded and the NDA’s have been lifted
“We are working closely with SAHPRA for regulatory clearance and so we believe they are ready to rapidly process applications.”
Distribution and delivery structures have also been embarked on.
“A lot of work has been involved and we will be doing more to communicate to the public to dispel some misconceptions and to ensure preparation for this massive campaign particularly because some of the vaccines will require two doses and it will be very important that we do not lose clients to follow up.
“I have participated directly in discussions with vaccine manufacturers and we also participate in the ACT- Accelerator- where we are co-chairs with Norway- and the Africa Vaccine Initiative Task Team, which was initiated by president Ramaphosa and this makes us focus on Africa’s acquisition of vaccines as expeditiously as many other countries are able to do so.
“I hope this gives an overview of the efforts we have made to ensure that we do not get left behind in the equitable distribution of vaccines globally,” said Dr Mkhize.
Earlier today, DA Leader John Steenhuisen called on the national government to follow the Western Cape government’s lead in working pro-actively to expedite access to a Covid-19 vaccine.
If Colombia can get vaccines why can’t South Africa?
Steenhuisen said it was time for the SA government to put the people first and urgently secure a bi-lateral deal to get vaccines to SA sooner.
“Other nations have been able to do this. Why can’t we? The nation of Colombia, a country with almost identical socio-economic circumstances as South Africa has managed to immediately source a Covid-19 vaccine and has secured 9 million doses,” Steenhuisen pointed ou.
“Despite being part of the World Health Organisation’s COVAX programme, Colombia has realised the obvious delays and shortcomings of this initiative and thus opted for a bi-lateral approach to swiftly secure the vaccine for its citizens.
“The longer this ANC government delays access to a Covid-19 vaccine, the more lives and livelihoods our country will lose to this virus.”