Concerns SA could be last in line for Covid-19 vaccine
Cape Town – There are worries South Africa may be one of the last countries in line to get a Covid-19 vaccine because of the cost involved and a scramble by First World countries to get their hands on it first.
Two vaccines are awaiting US Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approval after more than 90% efficacy rates were recorded, and two pharmaceutical companies, Pfizer and Moderna, are signing deals with European countries and the US for the roll-out of millions of doses for their Covid-19 patients and other citizens.
Ex-Treatment Action Campaign activists, who in the past forced the South African government to roll out antiretrovirals for HIV/Aids patients, said they were ready to take on government again to roll out a vaccine when one becomes available.
Veteran activist and executive director of Section27, Mark Heywood, said: “Now that vaccines are becoming available, our government must use all its powers to ensure that people in South Africa have equal access. Neither price nor patents should be an obstacle, and government must start now to think about the systems that will be needed to ensure the smooth distribution of the vaccine, starting for those with the highest risk of Covid-19.”
Dr Anthonet Koen, principal investigator at one of the Covid-19 vaccine trial sites in Gauteng, said: “It’s important that we get a vaccine that’s right, especially for South Africa. We often get overseen and get left behind when it comes to life-saving treatments. If you think about HIV, we were last in line to get access to antiretrovirals, and we don’t want that to happen.”
Koen said there would not be a vaccine in the country this year. “We need to be realistic about this… but hopefully within the first quarter of 2021 we will have something.”
Vice-president for research at the SA Medical Research Council, Jeffrey Mphahlele, said: “South Africa is currently not in the same category as other countries where the coronavirus is raging, and there are still a number of hurdles that would need to be discussed. The cost is something we are unsure of because the vaccine would have to be licensed, and thereafter the dosage would have to be discussed.”
Economist Mike Schussler said the logistics of dosages and transportation of the vaccine are two factors that need to be taken into consideration.
“The entire supply chain will have to be considered. What we know is that if we had to do half of the South African population it would cost about R40 billion, and that’s highly problematic and unaffordable so we have to think strategically about this.”
The International Air Transport Association (Iata) released guidance to ensure that the air cargo industry was ready to support the large-scale transport and distribution of a vaccine.
Iata director-general and chief executive Alexandre de Juniac said: “Efficiently delivering billions of doses that must be stored in a deep-frozen state to the entire world will involve hugely complex logistical challenges. While the immediate challenge is the implementation of Covid-19 testing measures to reopen borders without quarantine, we must be prepared for when a vaccine is ready.”
Health Minister Zweli Mkhizi said that for now there was no vaccine, “so we need to adhere to containment measures”.