Having received finer pricing details from Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers over the past month, organised business is currently estimating that it will cost about R12-billion to vaccinate 70% of South Africa’s adult population – well below government’s earlier and heavily criticised estimate of R20-billion.
Business for South Africa (B4SA) steering committee chairperson Martin Kingston stressed on Wednesday, however, that both business and government were in agreement that, while the cost of the vaccine was a factor, it was “immaterial relative to the damage being caused to the economy when we are not able to operate at full capacity”.
Speaking during a webinar to unveil B4SA’s vaccine support programme Kingston said there was also agreement that South Africa needed to move “as quickly and aggressively” as possible in rolling out the vaccine to mitigate the effects of possible future Covid-19 waves, following a devastating second wave that took hold in December and January.
“There will be no end to the pandemic, nor the beginning of an economic recovery without a comprehensive, effective and urgent national vaccination programme. The cost of a vaccination programme is dwarfed by the human and economic cost of an unchecked Covid-19 pandemic."
National Covid Vaccine Coordination Committee member Stavros Nicolaou reported that, following the recent arrival of the first 1-million doses of a 1.5-million consignment from AstraZeneca, priority was being given to implementing the first phase of a larger three-phase vaccination roll-out, which would target the vaccination of some 1.2-million frontline health workers over the coming weeks.
These health workers had been further categorised into patient-facing healthcare workers in acute hospitals, known as 1A workers, non-patient-facing healthcare workers in acute hospitals (1B) and other healthcare workers (1C).
“We have completed logistics and distribution plans for Phase 1A private facilities and have also geo-mapped healthcare workers to vaccination sites to identify capacity gaps,” Nicolaou reported, adding that plans were in place for cold-chain management of the AstraZeneca vaccine which requires storage at between 2 °C and 8 °C.
Planning for the Phase 2 and Phase 3 roll-out had started, but was not advanced.
Phase 2 was expected to cover some 16.6-million essential workers, as well as people in congregate settings, persons over 60 and adults with comorbidities, while Phase 3 is targeting some 22.5-million adults falling outside of those categories.
Discovery Health’s Dr Ronald Whelan said that to reach 70% coverage, or the vaccination of 40-million people, South Africa would need to procure between 55-million and 60-million doses, with several vaccines requiring two doses.
The pace at which the vaccination programme could be implemented would depend, he added, on the availability of vaccine doses and the ability to vaccinate, which hinged materially on the number of accredited suppliers. The goal should be to have sufficient capacity to enable the vaccination of as many people as possible a day throughout all three phases.
To complete Phase 1 alone, South Africa would need to secure 900 000 more doses over and above the 1.5-million already procured from the Serum Institute of India.
President Cyril Ramaphosa confirmed on February 1 that a further 12-million doses have been secured from the global COVAX facility, which would release about two-million doses by March. Another secured nine-million vaccine doses had been secured from Johnson & Johnson, which would start delivery in the second quarter, while Pfizer had committed 20-million vaccine doses, with deliveries starting in the second quarter.
The final cost of those doses would depend on the mix of vaccines procured by government, which is the sole acquirer.
“The good news is that the price assumptions are coming down and that’s part of the reason that we are seeing a programme that’s looking a lot more affordable than if you had perhaps looked at it in the beginning of December,” Whelan said, reporting that far more refined pricing details had been provided in recent weeks by various manufacturers.
Funding for the programme would arise from a combination of National Treasury Budget allocations and medical scheme contributions.
Although the funding flows and reimbursement model between government, medical schemes and vaccination sites was yet to be finalised.