Amid growing questions about South Africa’s Covid-19 vaccination plan, the Department of Health has outlined the framework for the country’s vaccine programme, with the first phase of inoculations expected to target 1.25 million healthcare workers starting in February.
Speaking during a webinar organised by the ANC’s Progressive Business Forum, the department’s Dr Aquina Thulare on Tuesday said government would be the sole purchaser of the vaccine from manufacturers globally, and the Department of Health would contract suppliers to procure stock and allocate the vaccines to various role players in the public and private sectors.
“Financing is going to be mobilised from multiple sources, but predominantly from the fiscus. And there will be other mechanisms of supporting the budget through the participation, for example, of medical aid schemes and the business sector in providing support to the budget,” Thulare said.
“The reason for government being the sole purchaser is because there is scarcity of supply globally and the negotiations are quite complex, and they require they should happen at government-to-supplier level.”
Thulare said government was looking to the vaccine in order to achieve population immunity (also known as herd immunity) of 65% of South Africa’s population (40 million citizens).
“This will help us to prevent ongoing transmission. This advice is also coming from the ministerial advisory committee on vaccination that has conducted various exercises of modelling to understand what will be critical for us to reach that population immunity,” she said.
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the establishment of the inter-ministerial committee (IMC) on vaccination to assist with implementation of the programme during the ANC webinar.
The IMC is headed by Deputy President David Mabuza and will include Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni and Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, among its 15 members.
According to government’s strategy, there will be three phases to the roll out vaccines in the country. The first phase is expected to start at the beginning of February, with 1.25 million healthcare workers expected to be inoculated, which will include traditional health practitioners that are at risk of contracting and transmitting the virus if they are not vaccinated.
The second phase of the programme will see essential workers like teachers and police officers being vaccinated, including people who live in congregated settings like retirement homes, prisons and care homes, as well as people who are above 60 years old and people with comorbidities.
“And then in phase three we are going to be looking at other persons above 18 years of age and the target population is about 2.5 million,” Thulare said.
Thulare said due to the global shortage in the available Covid-19 vaccine stocks, the government would procure the vaccines from different manufactures.
“This will result in us acquiring different types of vaccines. We call them multiple vaccines in the programme, and it might be a single-dose vaccine or a two-dose vaccine. And if ever you get a single-dose vaccine, you cannot interchange it for a two-dose vaccine,” she said.
Thulare said the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was one of the vaccines government was procuring. The vaccine requires two doses and has been found to be 95% effective at preventing laboratory-confirmed Covid-19 illness in people without evidence of previous infection.
The other vaccine government was looking to procure was the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from the Serum Institute of India, with 1.5 million doses expected to be rolled out in South Africa.
The other vaccine being looked at included Johnson & Johnson’s Covid vaccine and the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) is expected to approve the injections before they can be used in the country.
Allocation of vaccines
The country’s Covid-19 vaccine plan will be based on a pre-vaccination registration system in order for government to know who is going to be inoculated, where they are going to receive the vaccine, and which dose they will receive, Thulare said.
The registration system will also include the names of all vaccinated South Africans and they will be provided with an electronic vaccination card.
“And there will also be an appointment system for vaccination, meaning that once you have registered, there will be an allocation of the site at which you’re going to be vaccinated,” she said.
There will also be a private health sector coordinating committee that will include medical aid schemes, the Hospital Association of South Africa, the Independent Practitioners Association, retail pharmacies and groups, as well as other health associations, among others.
“Vaccines are not going to be available for everyone immediately. There needs to be a system of prioritisation that will allow us to distribute the vaccine based on what we have at hand,” Thulare said.
“We’ll also look at those that are at great risk of transmitting the virus to others as one of the categories that are going to be prioritised,” she said.
The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and the police will also be deployed to different sites in the country where the vaccines will be administered.