'There is a lot of fighting behind the scenes': Zweli Mkhize on race to secure Covid-19 vaccines

Government is targeting 67% of the population to be vaccinated in a bid to establish herd immunity. Stock photo.
Government is targeting 67% of the population to be vaccinated in a bid to establish herd immunity. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/lacheev

Government's plan to roll out Covid-19 vaccines will see recipients getting the jab at work, through outreach programmes and general practitioners and at vaccination centres.

The department of health outlined its vaccine rollout strategy in a briefing on Sunday evening, explaining government was targeting 67% of the population in its strategy to establish herd immunity.

Director-general of health Dr Anban Pillay said phase one of the vaccine rollout, covering front line health workers, would see recipients vaccinated at workplaces.

During phase two, essential workers would receive jabs through a work-based vaccination programme.

People in congregate settings, who also fall under phase two, will be vaccinated through outreach programmes, and the jabs will be available at public facilities in rural areas and community pharmacies, from general practitioners and non-governmental organisations.

SA is battling a rapidly spreading second wave of Covid-19 infections without access to a vaccine.

Health minister Zweli Mkhize assured the public that procuring vaccines was a priority for government.

“We've set up structures to expedite financing in sourcing the procurement, and therefore the issues of the vaccine strategy will get undivided attention from the whole of government. We have embarked on public-private partnerships with very good outcomes, and we have approached medical aids to be part of the co-financing.

“The process is at a stage where the Council for Medical Schemes has engaged medical schemes, and I have signed amendments of regulations to allow for vaccines and other therapeutics to be part of the prescribed minimum benefits,” said Mkhize.

He revealed business had also been engaged, particularly through Business Unity SA (Busa).

“The total financing arrangement will include medical schemes, business and government with an arrangement made with the Solidarity Fund to provide a platform for collection of funds and for expedited and controlled procurement processes,” said Mkhize.

The total cost for vaccinations is not yet known.

While SA chose Covax as the best bet to access vaccines, Mkhize revealed the department of health and ministerial advisory team had also had bilateral discussions with potential vaccines suppliers including Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Cipla.

“Key considerations are availability, quality, ease of use, storage, sustainability and cost,” Pillay said.

Mkhize said government was “fighting” behind the scenes to ensure the country gets access to the amount of vaccines it needed to reach herd immunity. However as a developing country, there were hurdles for SA.

He said: “There is no justification for well-off countries to hog the stock. They have to consider releasing that stock. Some countries have stocked vaccine for five times their population and obviously they will not use all of that. It's a moral responsibility to release it. We are not asking for charity. We will buy,” he said.

Mkhize said President Cyril Ramaphosa had called on manufacturers to negotiate for access to their vaccines.

“There is a lot of fighting behind the scenes. We are fighting every day for access to vaccines.”

While negotiations continue behind closed doors, Mkhize said the safety and effectiveness of any vaccine procured by government remained a priority.

“The SA Health Products Regulatory Authority put several measures in place to ensure regulatory approvals of safe vaccines.”

Vaccine uptake would be monitored through an electronic vaccination data system including patient information, the health establishment where the vaccine was administered, the name of the vaccine and batch number and safety information should a patient experience “adverse events”.

“A lot of work has been involved and we will be doing more to communicate to the public to dispel misconceptions and ensure preparation for this massive campaign, particularly because some vaccines will require two doses and it will be very important we do not lose clients for follow ups,” Mkhize said.

TimesLIVE


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