Those working on the frontlines are excited by the announcement that at least one million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will be available to healthcare workers before the end of the month.
Facing a barrage of questions from members of the portfolio committee on health, Mkhize said the department had already reached an agreement with the Serum Institute of India (SII) on the order, but could not give MPs further details on figures. All he could say was that one million vaccine doses would be in the country in the coming weeks, and another 500,000 in February.
During an earlier presentation, Mkhize said the department had engaged with a range of vaccine manufacturers from last September, projecting a 67% inoculation coverage could cost R20.6 billion, with 100% coming to R30 billion.
Responding to perceptions that government’s reliance on the Solidarity Fund to make a down payment to secure SA’s entry to the Covax facility meant it could not afford to purchase vaccines for its own citizens, a bullish Mkhize said: “The acquisition of the vaccines will be largely funded from the fiscus.
“Obviously medical aids and the private sector, will play a role. There will be no reliance on charitable sources. But I am not at liberty to release figures at this stage.”
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The R283 million Covax downpayment would cover 10% of the population by April – in line with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s recent pledge.
Health Justice Initiative head Fatima Hassan said: “It is important for government to share its funding plans in detail, to create transparency.
“If there is a budget allocation from National Treasury, we need to hear how the cost and risk will be managed. It is also important to know whether the price charged is fair or reasonable.”
Economist Mike Schussler calculated the cost of vaccinating 67% of the population to amount to R12 billion.
“Basically, for the cost of an SA Airways bailout, South Africa could get close to 66% of population vaccinated. This adding to the fact that about 20% already have immunity by having had Covid-19, often without even knowing it.
“The actual percentage of the adult population with herd immunity at 67%, would be 73.5%, which could be enough for the population.
“At most it should cost South Africa R20 billion – say with some also being paid to people doing the vaccination and at best probably around R12 billion on same basis,” said Schussler.
The Indian vaccine acquisition – the first sign of government moving into gear in procuring the much-needed vaccines – has been welcomed by the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) and medical experts.
“Nehawu is elated by this announcement and we hope that government will continue to work extra hard to secure more vaccines. We applaud the update from the minister and encourage him to continue to give more updates to the public and workers, in order to help with the anxiety that has engulfed the country.
“As a union organising in the healthcare sector, we will work hand in hand with government to ensure that frontline workers are vaccinated and that corners are not cut in the process. We will monitor the process with a hawk’s eyes to ensure that it runs smoothly for the benefit of our members and workers.
“Nehawu calls on the Department of Health to convene an urgent meeting with all trade unions, organising in the healthcare sector to discuss the rollout plan and a system that will be used to distribute the vaccine to healthcare workers.
“We appeal to our people to continue to exercise and follow best practice and ways to avoid getting infected by the coronavirus, including staying at home, observing social distance, wearing masks and washing of hands with soap,” said Nehawu general secretary Zola Saphetha.
University of Cape Town professor Heather Zar, of the department of paediatrics and child health at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital, said: “This is good news – 1.5 million doses will cover around all health workers with two doses.”
“Excellent news” was also how Tygerberg Hospital infectious disease specialist and University of Stellenbosch academic Dr Jantjie Taljaard, reacted to the news.
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