From 'delays' to deposits: SA’s rocky road to securing a Covid-19 vaccine

SA has paid to secure a spot in the Covax Covid-19 vaccine programme - here's how we got here

Vials of AstraZeneca's COVISHIELD, coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine, are seen before they are packaged inside a lab at Serum Institute of India, Pune, India, Nov. 30, 2020.
Vials of AstraZeneca's COVISHIELD, coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine, are seen before they are packaged inside a lab at Serum Institute of India, Pune, India, Nov. 30, 2020.
Image: FRANCIS MASCARENHAS

After weeks of scepticism, concerns and criticism, the South African government finally made the payment for the Covid-19 vaccine on Tuesday. The vaccine will be available early next year and will be accessible to 10% of the population.

Here's a timeline of how we got here, from accusations of missed payments to “threats” of legal action:

November 24: Government says it will pay R500m for access to vaccines 

Khadija Jamaloodien, director of affordable medicines at the health ministry, said SA would be among the countries which will join the Covax global Covid-19 vaccine distribution scheme. At the time, SA had not signed the commitment to participate.

She said this would allow SA to get some of the first batch of vaccines, which will be distributed among people who will be identified as priority groups.

“We have to be strategic about how we do this because the intention is to cover a larger proportion of the population. Initially the strategy is to protect the vulnerable, which includes our health care workers, and then those we will identify as priority groups,” she said.

December 4: Tito Mboweni rubbishes claims of missed deadline

The finance minister rubbished claims that the government had missed its deadline to make a down payment required to be part of the scheme. He was responding to the DA shadow finance minister, Geordin Hill-Lewis, who questioned bailing out SAA before securing the vaccine.

“I think it's very important that when you're an adult person, you must first inform yourself of all the facts before you open your mouth.

“The fact is that we have sufficient time, until plus-minus December 15, to do the payment. So we've not missed the deadline at all and the Solidarity Fund stands ready to pay the R500m that has been promised,” said Mboweni.

December 4: Down payment to be made on December 15 

The government said it would make the down payment to the Covax facility, by December 15. It said it was concluding a memorandum between the department of health and the Solidarity Fund, which agreed to make the contribution.

To secure enough doses to vaccinate 10% of our population, we will be required to make a down payment of R327,118,080, of which the Solidarity Fund has generously agreed to make this initial contribution.  

“We are concluding the memorandum of understanding between the Solidarity Fund and the national department of health in the next few days. The full cost of purchasing the doses required is estimated at R2,156,934,840.”

December 14: Cyril Ramaphosa says vaccine will be available to 10% of the population

President Ramaphosa said only 10% of the country's population would have access to the Covid-19 vaccine which is expected early next year. He made the announcement during his address to the nation last week.

The president urged South Africans to adhere to the non-pharmaceutical protective measures of social distancing, hand sanitising and wearing masks.

On Covax, he said: “This facility - known as Covax - pools resources and shares vaccine development risk to ensure equitable access to vaccines when they become available. As part of this facility, it is expected that SA will receive initial vaccines to cover 10% of our population in the early part of next year.”

December 18: Mboweni responds to DA after Treasury missed payment deadline

The DA released a statement on Friday last week in which it criticised the government for “compromising” the safety of South Africans after it missed the December 15 deadline. Mboweni hit back, saying DA MPs need to inform themselves before “opening their loud mouths about things they know nothing about”.

“I will ask Julius Malema to deal with them, we are on track with the vaccine consortium. I don't need the DA nonsense,” he wrote in a tweet.

Hill-Lewis hit back at the minister for “being absent on the job” and questioned why the National Treasury hadn't issued a letter of guarantee for Covax.

December 22: SA confirms down payment for Covid-19 vaccine 

The government on Tuesday confirmed that SA had paid the deposit to secure its participation in the Covax programme. Covax also confirmed SA's entry and payment, which will see about six million people getting access to the vaccine.

Health minister Zweli Mkhize commended the collaboration of various sectors to ensure that South Africans received the best medical care.

“It is a privilege to oversee a process that has brought together government, international partners and business for the sole purpose of delivering quality health care to the people of SA,” he said.

“This is what we have been advocating for when we speak of multisectoral collaboration, and it is gratifying to see this spirit being harnessed for the good of our people, Africans and the global village.”

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