The COVAX initiative is one of three potential strategies to access vaccines. The South African Medical Association (SAMA) urges the National Department of Health (NDoH) to urgently explore all options to ensure that health care workers and those most at risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19 receive these vaccines before the winter season. SAMA is of the view that the NDoH could be more pro-active in its engagement with industry. Bilateral agreements with pharmaceuticals have been the main strategy taken by other countries. The NDoH should embark on engagements with other countries that have developed their own vaccines.

According to Dr Coetzee, National Chairperson of SAMA, the cost and volumes of vaccines should be considered when entering into a vaccine access agreement. Under the COVAX, South Africa is seen as a high income country, and will procure vaccine supply at similar costs to high income countries like the USA, and will most likely pay more for a vaccine than a country such as Nigeria or even India. South Africa is simply not in the same financial position as a country like the USA, and while it is important to subsidise the cost of the vaccine for poorer countries, it does come at a cost to our country. It should be noted that with COVAX, South Africa can only secure 5 percent access to the vaccine, and it is unclear which vaccine South Africa would get under the COVAX agreement.

Dr Coetzee stressed that the choice of vaccine is critical to ensure the effective deployment without compromising the cold chain. SAMA suggests that the NDoH should rather negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies for a better price, asking them to lower their profit margins in order to assist. SAMA notes that some pharmaceutical companies have offered medication at cost price during the pandemic.

Dr Coetzee says that it is important to note that none of the current vaccines available, are registered and licensed within South Africa. That process should still take place.

SAMA urges the NDoH to be open and transparent regarding its plans. SAMA is also adamant that this process should be in place no later than early May 2021, in order to protect health care workers from further loss of life.