SA’s vaccine plan draws scrutiny as funding is sought

South Africa’s largest labour union for health workers urged the government to accelerate its Covid-19 vaccine rollout plan, criticising the existing programme as “scant on details and very ambiguous on the timelines.”

While at least 29 countries, from Mexico to Germany, have begun inoculating their populations against the virus, South Africa has yet to conclude any supply agreements with pharmaceutical companies. With more than 1.09 million confirmed coronavirus infections and almost 30 000 deaths, South Africa is the worst-hit country on the African continent.


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The government’s failure to conclude talks with manufacturers of the shots has left the country “bearing the brunt of the scarcity of vaccines,” the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union said in an emailed statement.

“We share the sentiments of our federation, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, that government was caught napping while we are facing a deadly pandemic that has killed millions of people.”

South African Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said Sunday the government plans to vaccinate more than 40 million of the population against Covid-19 in an “urgent” and phased approach to ultimately eliminate infections. Funding assistance is being sought from business and medical-insurance companies, he said in an online briefing.

“The vaccines will need to be made available quickly” so that most citizens are covered by the end of the year, he said. Discussions with manufactures are still under way, with an aim to obtain the first inoculations next month.

About 40.4 million people, or 67% of the population, will be immunised, starting with frontline health workers in the first wave, essential workers and the elderly in the second and those over 18 years of age in the third, Mkhize said.

South Africa is holding direct talks with vaccine suppliers including Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca Plc and Pfizer Inc. over supplies for the country, the presidency said in a statement sent to Bloomberg on Sunday. While four vaccine trials are being conducted in the country, no supply deals have been concluded with pharmaceutical companies.

South Africa has secured doses that are being acquired through the Covax facility, an initiative designed to ensure equitable access to vaccines, which will ensure that 10% of the population is immunised, Mkhize said. Delivery is expected in the second quarter of the year.

Vaccine manufacturers who have indicated that they can expedite delivery are being pursued, though discussions are sensitive and bound by non-disclosure agreements until the negotiations are concluded, Mkhize said.

Nehawu demanded that the government engage both Russia and China on the emergency procurement of their vaccines for health-care workers, while waiting for the delivery of inoculations through the Covax initiative.

Separately, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union appealed to mining houses to ensure that employees are vaccinated against Covid-19.

“It has become clear that the public health system will not be able to commence with vaccination until the middle of 2021, and we therefore believe that the private sector should step up to the plate,” it said in a statement.

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P.