Concerns are mounting that the government has not been open about choices of Covid-19 vaccines, with no information on what type was considered, the number of warehouses needed and how the distribution chain would work.
The health department has announced that South Africa will probably take its first delivery of coronavirus vaccine, which will cover 10% of the population, by the middle of next year after the Solidarity Fund agreed to release R327 million for initial payment.
But Stellenbosch University epidemiologist Dr Jo Barnes said she was concerned the government was not being open.
“Are we going to vaccinate healthcare workers first? Other essential staff? Old persons and persons with comorbidities?
“I am concerned that some persons in the government seem to think this last class of persons can be written off.
“By the time the vaccination staff have run through this list, we will be several millions of doses short for 2021,” she said.
According to reports, the total cost of the World Health Organisation-backed Covax initiative, which seeks to give lower-income countries the same access to vaccines as wealthier nations, could amount to more than R2 billion.
Barnes said it was impossible to say what the exact cost would be as this was dependent on whether the vaccine would involve two injection doses or one dose, or if it would need very cold temperatures as one vaccine needs to be kept at -70°C.
She said although government had not said which vaccine it supported, in her view the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, that can be kept at temperatures already in use for other vaccines and medicines, may be the best choice, even if the coverage was slightly lower than the two expensive ones.
Barnes said the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were said to cost $500 (about R7 551) to $600 per injection, while the Oxford vaccine was aiming to sell at R45 a dose.
“I think it will be better to accept a slightly lower efficacy and vaccinate a lot more people as soon as we can,” she said.
“But these choices are not discussed…
“Beyond these challenges, the pandemic cruelly exposed the huge failings of the public health system in our country.
“How does the government plan to vaccinate the communities living far away from the nearest clinic and those clinics without proper water and sanitation, let alone refrigeration facilities?”
Barnes said a large number of these clinics did not have electricity either, asking how healthcare staff would follow up the vaccinated persons to monitor whether they develop side-effects or complications.