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’Not realistic’ for public to purchase Covid-19 vaccine

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But government has said it is ’not realistic’ for the public to purchase Covid-19 vaccine

The Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine. Picture: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA).

Pretoria – While there is no legal restriction on the private sector to purchase Covid-19 vaccines, there is no realistic way in which private persons or provincial health departments could procure the vaccine.

This is according to government in its response to an urgent application by AfriForum and trade union Solidarity, who earlier said the government was deliberately excluding the private sector by not allowing it to buy, rollout or administer vaccines itself.

They wanted the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, to take a closer look at the government’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout strategy and its implementation plan to ensure that South Africans received these vaccines.

But in light of the government now admitting that there was no legal restriction on the private sector to purchase Covid-19 vaccines, the application will not go ahead at this stage.

According to the applicants, the government did not have the ability to manage the vaccine process themselves. This includes the purchasing of vaccines. They said the private sector must be involved with the full vaccine value chain – from procurement to the administering of the vaccine.

“The government has now admitted under oath in its court documents that there is no statutory restriction on the private sector regarding the purchase of vaccines. There is now legal certainty that the private sector may purchase and distribute vaccines – a huge setback for looters,” the organisations said.

They are calling on large employers, medical distributors, medical aid funds and other role players to start buying, distributing and administering vaccines on a large scale.

“We also call on suppliers to not only provide vaccines centrally to the government, but to a variety of buyers so that there are more role players in the market, thus also enabling the consumer to make a choice about which vaccine he or she wants administered,” the applicants said.

They said they would hold the government liable and accountable to ensure that they made fair, transparent and legal policy decisions.

Dr Sabelo Buthelezi, the director-general of the Department of Health, said in court papers that Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers were presently only selling their vaccines in very large quantities – literally millions of doses.

They are also only selling their vaccines to national governments or organisations provided that the governments concerned sign agreements giving indemnities and guarantees which would be beyond the reach of any private person or institution.

“There is no practical possibility of any private person or institution at this stage procuring such vaccines themselves,” Buthelezi stated.

Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize previously said the purchase of vaccines would be managed by the central government. He said central purchasing of vaccines would be the best option for all people in South Africa.

The minister further mentioned that the private sector could buy vaccines from the government.

At least 73 043 patient-facing healthcare workers in the public and private sector have to date been vaccinated against Covid-19 in the country using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

South Africa’s first received the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in February, but its rollout was halted after a study showed “disappointing” results against its new variant of the Covid-19.

The department said the aim was to vaccinate at least 1.1 million people by the end of the month. The second batch of Johnson & Johnson vaccines arrived in the country over the weekend.

During the so-called national family meeting on Sunday, President Cyril Ramaphosa said: “Once the vaccination of healthcare workers has been completed, we will begin with phase two of the vaccine roll-out in late April or early May.

“Phase two will include the elderly, essential workers, persons living or working in institutional settings and those with co-morbidities.”

He said the country had signed an agreement with Johnson & Johnson to secure 11m doses. Of these doses, 2.8m doses would be be delivered in the second quarter and the rest spread throughout the year.

“We have also secured 20m doses from Pfizer, which will be delivered from the second quarter,” he added. “Additionally, we have secured 12m vaccine doses from the Covax facility and are finalising our dose allocation from the African Union.

“We are in constant contact with various other vaccine manufacturers to ensure that we have the necessary quantities of vaccines when we need them.”

South Africa’s confirmed cases stood at 1 513 959 yesterday, with 50 077 deaths and 1 431 336 recoveries.

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