January 18, 2021

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South Africa going for COVAX vaccine scheme for 10% of population

3 min read

South Africa is going with the COVAX global COVID-19 vaccine distribution scheme, with a committed purchase for 10% of its population of 58 million, a senior health official has told Reuters.

Khadija Jamaloodien, director of affordable medicines at the health ministry said South Africa had not yet signed the commitment agreement to participate in COVAX but would do so once officials had completed the necessary administrative processes.

Finance minister Tito Mboweni told a Bloomberg Invest Africa virtual conference earlier Tuesday that South Africa has paid R500 million into the Covax program.

Jamaloodien said the facility would give the country an early batch of vaccines with which to start protecting people.

“We have to be strategic about how we do this, because the intention is to cover a larger proportion of the population. Initially the strategy is to protect the vulnerable… the vulnerable includes our healthcare workers and then those which we will identify as priority groups.”

The decision reportedly followed advice from a group of experts.

The South African government has publicly expressed support for COVAX, but it had yet to say how much of the population it would seek to cover via the facility co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO), and whether it would go for the committed, rather than optional, purchase arrangement.

The global Covax alliance has raised more than $2 billion and secured deals for roughly 700 million doses so far, Bloomberg reported.

Vaccine procurement

South Africa has paid R500 million into the Covax program, which strives to supply low and middle-income countries with proven Covid-19 vaccines to ensure equitable access around the world, according to Finance Minister Tito Mboweni.

Mboweni said he will find a further R4.5 billion from the budget to make sure South Africa has an adequate supply and is at “the front of the queue” when vaccines become available. There may also be scope to help some neighbors, he added.

The government is trying to keep its options open while it assesses which vaccine will be most effective locally and most affordable.

As an upper middle income country, South Africa does not qualify for subsidised vaccines under COVAX, unlike many other African countries.

Double disadvantage

But health campaigners say countries in this bracket also lack the diplomatic weight to shape the scheme to their advantage, unlike rich nations paying bigger sums, leaving them at a double disadvantage.

South Africa had to weigh the benefits of signing up to the scheme versus agreeing bilateral deals with major pharmaceutical companies, or waiting to see which vaccines proved the most effective in late-stage clinical trials, an official close to the government’s vaccine discussions told Reuters.

The country has recorded the most coronavirus infections onthe African continent, with more than 760,000 confirmed cases and more than 20,000 deaths to date.

It imposed one of the world’s strictest lockdowns in March to contain the virus, compounding pre-existing economic woes.