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State expresses wish for February rollout of vaccines,...

South Africa


State expresses wish for February rollout of vaccines, will prioritise healthcare workers

Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize hopes to conclude negotiations with coronavirus vaccine suppliers and begin vaccinating frontline healthcare workers in February. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

Negotiations with coronavirus vaccine manufacturers are at an advanced stage, according to Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, who announced a vaccine rollout strategy on Sunday amid criticism that the state had failed to act. Details, however, were still scant.

The state hopes to conclude negotiations with coronavirus vaccine suppliers and begin vaccinating frontline healthcare workers in February, according to a rollout strategy announced by Health Minister Zweli Mkhize on Sunday evening.

South Africa expected to start receiving vaccine supplies to cover 10% of the population through the Covax initiative by the beginning of the second quarter of 2021, but Mkhize said government departments were working urgently to secure vaccines through bilateral deals with manufacturers.

“In fact, we are targeting February. Although all of that is going to depend very much on the success of the current bilateral negotiations that we’re having with various companies,” said the minister in a virtual press briefing.

He said the target date was “really more our wish” and no deals had been reached to deliver vaccines by February, but the government was “fighting” to secure supplies before the second quarter of the year.

Under the strategy, a vaccine will be administered in three phases, starting with the country’s estimated 1.25 million frontline healthcare workers. An estimated 16 million people will be vaccinated in the second phase, including people working in essential services and congregate settings, the elderly and people with comorbidities.

Phase three will target another 22 million people to bring the total number of persons vaccinated to 40.3 million, or 67% of the country’s population, the level at which it’s believed herd immunity can be achieved.

Health department director-general Dr Anban Pillay said he was “fairly confident” South Africa would receive vaccines in the first quarter of 2021.

He claimed that while negotiations with companies were ongoing, Covax, the global initiative aimed at providing equitable access to vaccines, was working to supply South Africa earlier than first expected but it had made no firm commitment.

The health officials were speaking amid growing criticism of the state’s failure to secure a vaccine deal, beyond the Covax initiative, as dozens of countries have already started rolling out vaccination programmes.

Leading health professionals, including SA Medical Research Council president Professor Glenda Gray and Progressive Health Forum convenor Dr Aslam Dasoo, recently said the state’s “lack of foresight will visit on us the consequences of the greatest man-made failure to protect the population since the Aids pandemic”.

Vaccines for South Africa. Now

They claimed state health officials had embarked on a “frantic cover-up and evasion of culpability” by recently downplaying the importance of securing a vaccine.

Professor Barry Schoub, chair of the ministerial advisory committee on Covid-19 vaccines, on Sunday warned that vaccines would “not be a magic bullet” in the fight against the coronavirus and false expectations could lead the public to abandon critical non-pharmaceutical interventions.

The Covid-19 vaccine and the danger of creating false expectations

South Africa recorded 11,859 new coronavirus cases on Sunday.

Mkhize denied the state had failed in its efforts to secure vaccine supplies and suggested critics were misinformed about the country’s efforts and ability to reach bilateral agreements with companies.

Critics claim the state could have made a non-binding commitment to purchase vaccines. Gray and her colleagues slammed officials who claimed they could not afford to commit to a vaccine that may not work.

“An Advanced Market Commitment does not require upfront payment for the vaccine and commits the buyer to purchase the vaccine only when it becomes available, at an agreed price and quantity,” the health experts wrote.

Mkhize dismissed the claim that the state could commit to a non-binding agreement and said Covax, which is looking to source multiple vaccines, had been the safest bet.

Pillay said vaccine manufacturers had required “a clear financial commitment”, including a deposit and the payment of the balance before delivery.

On Sunday, the Democratic Alliance questioned why South Africa had not been able to reach any bilateral agreements while a country such as Colombia, with similar socioeconomic issues, had secured multiple deals.

Mkhize said intense negotiations with companies were now under way.

“We’re at a very sensitive stage with our discussions. We’ve signed a non-disclosure agreement with various manufacturers. We’ve also received the terms of agreement from various of these particular manufacturers and we are waiting for specific offers that need to be discussed between us and those companies.”

The officials said they could not elaborate on negotiations due to non-disclosure agreements, but said they expected Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson would submit applications to the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) for approval by the end of January.

They said Moderna, which was the second vaccine to receive emergency approval in the US after Pfizer, was not expected to apply for approval from Sahpra.

The AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are seen as more feasible options for widespread use in South Africa as Pfizer’s vaccine must be stored at -70° Celsius. The Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines require standard refrigerated temperatures.

The Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines have received approval from multiple health authorities around the world, but Johnson & Johnson’s option could be beneficial as it is likely to require only one rather than two doses.

Pillay said a supplier would be chosen based on the availability of the vaccine, its effectiveness, and storage and distribution requirements and costs.

While negotiations continue, it’s unclear how much the vaccination programme will cost, but Mkhize said the state is in consultation with medical schemes and will aim to collect contributions from private companies to supplement government financing.

“The issue as to when exactly we get these vaccines, it’s a matter that we’re fighting every day and at a certain point we will be able to look back and say we’ve achieved it,” said Mkhize. DM


"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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All Comments 22

  • Sounds like hot air in a desperate attempt to hide their incompetence. For Mkhize to “wish” for a February roll-out is laughable as wishing for something has never been a good strategy.

  • Negotiating what? It’s very simple really: no money, no vaccines. The profligacy of the governing party over the past decades is about to bite them, hard.

  • I am just wondering. The minister says they will prioritise the health workers as the first recipients of the vaccines. Will the ANC do it like they did with the procurement of PPE for the health workers? Will ANC membership, politically connections and cadre deployment be the real determinant of the priority list? Does that explains the secrecy surrounding the vaccine roll-out?

    • Stop wondering. With these people you don’t wonder anymore. You know that the first batch will be secretly, for as far as they can keep a secret, distributed to government officials having developed all of a sudden comorbidities you might never have heard of before. Don’t hold your breath!

  • QUOTE: “……Mkhize said the state is in consultation with medical schemes and will aim to collect contributions from private companies to supplement government financing.”

    The bottom line is that as a result of the industrial scale looting by the ruling party, there’s no money left. Throw in gross incompetence, greed, arrogance & stupidity, we’re about to witness a repeat of the tragic AIDS fiasco. All of this compliments of the ANC the “people’s party”.

    While other countries incl. Colombia have secured vaccines for their citizens, our govt. is still “wishing” for things to happen.

  • Last night, Mkhize said that medical schemes had been asked to assist with the funding. How ironic, coming from someone who had set his target on implementing NHI during his tenure.

  • This is not the time or subject for scoring the cheap political points and dog-whistling to your usual crop of bigoted commentators with your headlines.

    Mkhize’s presentation last night was a very clear exposition, well supported by Schoub and the others, of the state of play of vaccine negotiations and preparations. Given that the current global politics around vaccines is not far from open warfare, what he said was straightforward and sensible.

    He restated the likely arrival of vaccine at start of 2nd quarter (to me, that means April). He obviously wishes for something earlier rather than later but he explained the global challenge.

    He also debunked claims that more could have done, explaining the dynamics of negotiation (which is well documented internationally) as well as explaining why SA has chosen to go with COVAX as our core strategy, which doesn’t rule out additional alternatives. Makes sense.

    As for the “dozens of countries (that) have already started rolling out vaccination programmes”, he pointed out that claims that other developing countries are already vaccinating were based on the use of so-far unregistered Chinese and Russian vaccines (which most of governmetn’s critics are nervous of anyway).

    If Maverick wants to make a useful contribution, please avoid pandering to populists (Steenhuisen on the right, and the eponymous Progressive Health Forum on the self-serving civil society left) and support the South Africans, public and private, who are doing what’s possible and seem to be doing it rather well.

    • Mike:

      First off the honourable minister is lying. Israel is already at 12% – with Pfizer vaccine. We are at 0% with no vaccine. What? Was pre-ordering two million doses for healthcare workers too difficult? All of the manufacturers had ordering systems in place that released the customer from all obligations if the relevant vaccine does not pass regulatory approval.

      Maybe our government wants the drugs to first undergo their procedures. It is not like the WHO and EU and US and Japan know anything, so we must protect our fellow south africans and follow local procedures. Probably the brown paper envelope procedure…

      This was criminal negligence.

      I don’t care as I will probably be at the very back of the government’s vaccine queue so if I want to see the vaccine within 2021 it will have to be privately arranged. Side-bet : government declares directly securing vaccination a crime? Then we’ll get on a plane and have it on holiday.

  • On past performance, we all suspect that part of the problem with the negotiations is that they are not bilateral, but multilateral. The manufacturer, the department of health, and the various cadre companies facilitating the transaction.

  • I used to wish for the tooth fairy !
    Who knows what the cabal is thinking .
    CR was saying we ‘Will have a vaccine ‘ to health workers , yet did not commit to any time frame . Not even 2nd quarter .
    Now with all the comments , Mkhize , has a wish !
    Hmm ‘Non disclosure’ agreements !
    Anyone else smelling a dead rat ?
    No transparency , all cloak and dagger stuff .
    Where they scraped up the deposit from is amazing .
    Still have to get Tito to magically find funds , if and when the vaccine is available !
    As Patrick says below , ‘no money, no honey’ .
    Who will pay for the refrigerated vehicles to transport the vaccine ?
    Where and how will it be stored ?
    ‘ Emergency tender time ‘ !
    The UK is vaccinating already , my aunt has had her 2 shots already .
    For Mr Muller to mention the Chinese /Russian vaccines is laughable .
    We are not chatting with them , even the Chinese do not want to be guinea pigs .
    Not about ‘political point scoring’ , we can all see the ‘track record’ of the ANC !
    I also object to being called ‘ bigoted’ .

  • “Phase three will target another 22 million people to bring the total number of persons vaccinated to 40.3 million, or 67% of the country’s population, the level at which it’s believed herd immunity can be achieved.”

    Are we to understand that the Government doesn’t understand the concept of “herd immunity’? It does _NOT_ mean that everyone is immune. It just means that the R0 is low enough for the infection rate to not lead to a mass epidemic. Make no mistake, the unvaccinated 33% will be still just as vulnerable to being infected, and in same cases to experiencing severe symptoms or even dying. Just because there are spare beds in the ICUs doesn’t mean that any of us want to be occupying them. The only acceptable target is 100% immunisation.

  • What “specific offers” need to be discussed at this very late stage? Opacity and evasions the order of the day as usual. The ANC has months to prepare for this and as usual, have come up short- no urgency even though every citizen’s health and well being depend on a fast and effective rollout of the vaccine . I suppose this delay was to be expected with past history apparent , however it is still disgraceful.

  • What a joke total incompetence as usual, the only thing they are good at is stealing through dodgy tenders.
    No problem with money for that black hole SAA then??!!!

  • If we leave the vaccination rollout to the Government, it will be a shambles. It should be left to the private sector to distribute. Any other medicine or vaccine find its way to those in need via the distribution channels of the private sector. Each South Africa that can afford to get a vaccine commercially, should adopt at least 5 others in their sphere of influence and arrange for them to be vaccinated. Such a process guarantees success, will be much quicker, and be free of corruption. The only thing that the Government needs to do is to ensure the Regulatory approval of the vaccine(s). The latter should have been done by now.

  • Mind blowing that we are continuously fed drivel and are expected to swallow it. Fact- over 23 third world countries including the likes of Bangladesh, Peru, Ecuador, Costa Rica etc etc have secured agreements for vaccine supplies whilst RSA is still negotiating. Perhaps the hold up relates to the percentage of the “backhanders” that are required to be paid.

  • I suppose that nobody wants to pay our government kick backs and our govamunt is so used to that that negotiations are failing all the time.

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