South Africa’s vaccination plan raises eyebrows ahead of launch

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Johannesburg (AFP)

The South African government has started presenting its plans for Covid-19 inoculation, although it has yet to receive a single dose of the vaccine as it faces criticism over unrealistic targets and a lack of clarity.

The worst-affected country on the continent has high hopes for vaccines as authorities grapple with an unprecedented rise in cases fueled by a new variant of the virus.

The government aims to vaccinate two-thirds of its population – around 40 million out of nearly 60 million people – in order to achieve collective immunity by the end of 2021.

One million doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine are expected this month – the first shipment of 20 million secure doses to be mostly delivered in the first half of the year.

“It will be the largest and most complex logistics enterprise in the history of our country,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said during an address to the nation on Monday.

After weeks of public outcry over the lack of planning, Ramaphosa has finally presented a three-phase vaccination plan for the coming year.

About 1.2 million healthcare professionals will be on the front lines for the shot, followed by 16 million elderly and vulnerable citizens, as well as frontline workers.

It is then expected that the remaining 22.5 million adults will be vaccinated.

But details on timing, suppliers and logistics remain slim, raising doubts about the plan’s feasibility.

“This would mean that we will have to vaccinate 150,000 people every day for the next 12 months,” said Angelique Coetzee, head of the South African Medical Association.

“It’s unrealistic,” she added. “We don’t have that ability. Who will vaccinate all of these people? ”

– ‘No concrete plan’ –

Ramaphosa assured that negotiations with vaccine manufacturers would be centralized and transparent.

Faith in the government has been shaken by a spate of coronavirus-related corruption scandals last year involving high-level politicians currently under investigation.

“Vultures are feasting on the misery of Covid-19,” a local newspaper blasted in July, citing allegedly corrupt deals for the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Ramaphosa said South Africa will secure its vaccines through the COVAX facility supported by the World Health Organization, the African Union and “direct engagements” with suppliers.

The first 1.5 million AstraZeneca vaccines, expected in January and February, will be manufactured in India.

COVAX is expected to deliver doses to 10 percent of the population between April and June.

High-level vaccine minister Barry Schoub told AFP that “further negotiations” were underway to meet immunization targets.

Frustrated by the delay, the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), accused the government of sidelining “reputed” manufacturers in favor of Chinese and Russian suppliers, “in the hope of get bribes ”.

“We have no concrete plan for acquiring this vaccine,” the DA said in a statement this week.

“Where do the 20 million doses come from…? ”

– ‘Game changer’ –

Pressure is building on the government.

The second wave of coronavirus in South Africa hit harder than the first, fueled by a variant of the virus considered to be more transmissible.

To date, the country has recorded more than 1.2 million cases and 34,000 deaths.

At least 190,000 infections and 4,600 deaths have been recorded this year alone.

“An effective vaccine will be a game changer,” Ramaphosa promised.

But experts estimate it could cost between 12 and 20 billion rand ($ 785 million and $ 1.3 billion) to vaccinate the entire population, according to local media.

That’s a high figure for a country with high public debt that has been made worse by an economic slowdown caused by the pandemic.

The Treasury, which has pledged to foot the bill, has not yet disclosed its budget for the purchase of vaccines.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize called on the private sector to help with the deployment.

South Africa’s two largest pharmacies last week said they would offer the injections in their stores and provide storage and distribution facilities.

“The main challenge is going to be to distribute the vaccine in areas of the country that are very difficult to obtain,” warned Schoub.

“There are parts of the country where there aren’t even any roads. ”

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