Cape Town - Western Cape premier Alan Winde’s persistent efforts to procure a Covid-19 vaccine will cost the provincial treasury billions of rands it can ill-afford, warn opposition parties.
Five million people would possibly need to receive the Covid-19 vaccine in the Western Cape for the province to achieve population immunity.
Winde has confirmed that he and his procurement team will meet this week to hash out a plan and source money from provincial treasury that will bolster the national Department of Health’s allocated doses for the province.
This week, the Western Cape will receive more than 93 000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines - 35 000 doses for health-care workers in the public sector and 58 584 doses for health-care workers in the private sector.
Winde would not confirm the budget for provincial procurement of vaccines. He said: “Hopefully, I will be able to have that target by Wednesday when our team reports back because we know at the moment that 38 million doses are too few for the country ... so what does that mean for us as a province?”
ANC leader in the Western Cape Legislature Cameron Dugmore said it’s concerning that the premier and provincial officials would not give details about their vaccine procurement plans because it was costly and would run into billions of rands.
“At the Covid-19 ad hoc committee in the legislature ... they further indicated that the administration costs including distribution per vaccine was R231. They estimate that this alone would cost between R1.2 billion to R1.7 billion. This cost excludes the cost of the vaccine itself,” said Dugmore. “We should be focusing on securing sufficient vaccines at no cost to the province from national government and making the case for funding of reasonable administrative and distribution costs. It's time to get serious and stop the grandstanding.”
Winde said he was not willing to engage in a debate over the implications of the vaccine costs. “Lets put it into perspective, it depends on what you want to weigh-up a lot of money against. The price of vaccines versus how many people are going to die in the third wave. It’s not even worth having that discussion. We have to try and mitigate as much risk as possible, we spent billions on PPE and now suddenly people are worrying about spending money on vaccines. Come on - we mustn’t have that discussion.”
The GOOD party’s secretary-general Brett Herron said the Western Cape government has never detailed the cost of vaccine procurement in any of their Covid-19 health plans. “The Western Cape government published it’s vaccine implementation plan, not even two weeks ago. It doesn’t mention a Western Cape vaccine procurement plan. All it does is talk about how they will roll out the national vaccine.”
Herron added: “Both the Western Cape Health Department and Finance and Economic Opportunities Departments made presentations to members of Parliament this week and there was no mention of a budget for procuring Covid-19 vaccines.“
MEC for Finance and Economic Opportunities David Maynier said: “We are in the process of putting together the budget and further announcements on all these issues will be made when the provincial budget is tabled in the provincial parliament on 10 March.”
Neither Winde nor Maynier would give details as to the budget to procure vaccines, but the premier did confirm that the provincial government would not solely foot the bill and that a public/private partnership would also carry the cost.
Winde said: “Vaccine pricing is less than testing. Of course, vaccines are many more than testing - so you need to vaccinate in our province nearly 5 million people, but for me at the end of the day the price of the vaccine and the price of the roll-out of the vaccine versus saving of lives, it becomes a no-brainer it’s what we’ve got to do.”
He has also confirmed that he will be meeting officials from the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) this week to get a timeline as to when they might approve other vaccines besides the Oxford-AstraZeneca one which the body has given the green light to for use.
He admitted it would be pointless for the Western Cape government to buy a vaccine that has not yet been approved for use in South Africa.
Meanwhile, questions have been raised about why South Africa, the only African member of the BRICS community, has not procured vaccines from member states such as China and Russia.
Russia had initially attracted criticism that fuelled scepticism for releasing the Sputnik V vaccine to the general population before publishing the phase III trial data. The Lancet, however, found the Sputnik V vaccine was more than 91% effective against Covid-19, according to trial results that were published in its medical journal.
Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine received a significant boost when analysis of an advanced clinical trial showed an efficacy of 91.6%.
Health Department spokesperson Popo Maja said: “Plans of procuring Sputnik V are in the pipeline. The feeling among our local partners and scientists about Sputnik V is mutual. Much as the world is facing a vaccine competition we are lucky to be part of the BRICS community and feel safe now that we have options such as those the Gamaleya Institute of Russia is developing. So yes, plans are afoot to secure the Sputnik V as time goes by.”
Reports have alleged that the EU is making it difficult for their locally-produced vaccines to be sent outside the bloc.
China has successfully developed its vaccine, known as Sinopharm, and Beijing has approved the general public use of the vaccine and it showed a 79% efficacy rate in phase three trials.
Ambassador-designate of China to South Africa, Chen Xiaodong, said China would honour its commitment to make the Covid-19 vaccine available globallly. China is discussing vaccine co-operation with South Africa, he said.
China donated millions of rand in cash, more than 6 million masks, and hundreds of thousands of testing reagents, respirators, temperature guns, goggles, protective suits, surgical gloves and food packages to South Africa.