Pressure on for SA government to push Covid-19 vaccine programme
Cape Town – Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has allayed fears South Africa would be last in line to get a Covid-19 vaccine during a hastily-arranged media briefing after reports that the government’s acquisition strategy for the live-saving drugs was in a shambles.
Mark Heywood, veteran activist and executive director of Section27, said: “There is no proper plan and the government has only given South Africans assurance, nothing concrete. What we need is a clear time line; there needs to be a great deal of urgency but at the same time it does not mean that the interventions we currently have are not effective.”
Heywood said civil societies and trade unions were gearing up to start campaigning for the government to urgently start with the vaccine procurement.
“I will be meeting with civil societies and trade unions and religious leaders and we will be stepping up our campaigning. Government needs to come up with a solution before we have litigation,” he said.
The Solidarity Fund, which was established in March to mobilise resources to assist in the fight against Covid-19, has already paid out R327 million to the World Health Organization (WHO) Covax facility which is the global initiative to ensure rapid and equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines for all countries — to acquire the vaccine. Several countries have already received shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca jabs.
The down payment was meant to secure the treatment for 10% of the country’s population. According to Mkhize they were engaged in intense negotiations to gain access to a Covid-19 vaccine for priority individuals as early as February, but made clear that there were no agreements yet in place with any pharmaceutical companies.
South Africa’s Medical Research Council vice-president Prof Jeffrey Mphahele said: “The biggest concern is the availability of the vaccine. We know that bilateral talks are still under way. The anxiety among South Africans is justified given the fact that there are other countries rolling out vaccines. The plan the government has could work but it is up to them on how successful they are.”
Ministerial advisory committee (MAC) member Prof Ian Sanne said: “We don’t have a choice but to move rapidly towards accessing vaccines in a tiers implementation strategy to ensure who gets the first vaccine and who gets the second. We need urgent decision-making on the procurement strategy and which vaccine we will be able to access, at which price. As soon as we initiate this the business confidence will increase and the economy will benefit from this.”
Sanne said the logistics could also be looked into.