ActionSA Calls for the Establishment of Private Sector-led National COVID-19 Vaccination Fund

While governments around the world have been focussing their efforts on the procurement and rollout of a vaccine to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, President Ramaphosa’s government has failed South Africa by devoting its time and resources to implementing and policing lockdowns without prioritising vaccine procurement.

It is a disgrace that South Africa will only be receiving the vaccine in the second quarter of the year, with the implication that COVID-19 will burden us deep into 2021, costing further lives and livelihoods.

While Minister Mkhize’s briefing last night shed some light on government’s approach, the credibility of the strategy has been undermined by their track record of the mismanagement of the public healthcare system, and gross corruption during the pandemic.

ActionSA advocates for the establishment of a private sector-led National COVID-19 Vaccination Fund, managed and primarily funded by Private Medical Aids, but with a mandate to ensure the transparent and efficient rollout of a national vaccination program to all South Africans in the interest of our collective health and prosperity.

Private Medical Aids are well placed to manage such an initiative free from corruption, and are already spending an exorbitant amount of money on the diagnosis, treatment and hospitalisation of their members that contract COVID-19. This money would be better directed to a national vaccine program – supplemented by funding from other private sector bodies, the Solidarity Fund, and crowd-funding initiatives – that would ensure broad and equitable access to a vaccine, including those who are not Medical Aid Members.

Several different vaccines having been shown to be effective against the virus that causes COVID-19, with vaccination programmes are now underway in many countries around the world – including in low- and middle-income countries. It beggars belief that South Africa cannot be counted amongst these nations.

The Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, likely to be the most widely used globally, requires two doses and costs approximately R50 (US$3 – 4) per dose and has already been approved for use in the UK and India and is available through the COVAX global vaccine initiative. Importantly, it can be stored in standard refrigerators as opposed to specialised freezers, making it a prime candidate for a national vaccination program in South Africa if we can secure supply.

ActionSA estimates the cost of inoculating 67% of the population (to achieve herd immunity) with the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine to be approximately R3.8 billion. The cost to the private sector to fund such an initiative pales in comparison to the economic cost of a protracted lockdown and increased hospitalisations.

While Ramaphosa’s government dithers and wastes money on ailing SOEs and other luxuries, Discovery Health recently announced that they have secured and ring-fenced funding to vaccinate 2 million of its members. ActionSA lauds this move by Discovery as a demonstration of the private sector’s ability to compensate for a corrupt and incompetent state, and encourages other Medical Aids to follow suite.

While it should not be necessary for the private sector to step in to compensate for a failed state, our government simply cannot be trusted with such a crucial initiative. The looting of COVID-19 relief funding, and the numerous PPE procurement scandals, bear testament to this.

The government should embrace the private sector, and particularly Private Medical Aids, as partners in a national vaccination programme. This will reduce the burden on the public healthcare system and allow the government to focus its efforts on ensuring that no South African is financially excluded from getting the vaccine. In partnership with private sector, and with the willpower to cut wasteful expenditure, there is no reason that our government cannot ensure that all South Africans can be vaccinated.

ActionSA believes that the private sector is a crucial partner in the project of fixing South Africa, as reflected in our core belief in the role of the market economy in achieving an inclusive, prosperous South Africa for all. In the absence of a functional government, the private sector is our only hope to ensure that we can achieve equitable access to the vaccine and bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control.