At least 14 million adults in the country could have access to the Covid-19 vaccine by the second quarter of this year following an agreement signed by medical aid companies and national government to fund the vaccines.
This will include 7 million medical scheme members and an equal number of citizens who do not have medical aid cover.
According to Discovery Health whose membership represents about 6.5% of all South Africans, medical schemes have agreed to support a pricing arrangement for the vaccines which ensures that a surplus is generated to purchase the vaccines that can be used to cross-subsidise higher risk non-medical scheme members.
“Vaccine manufacturers, with whom Discovery Health has been engaging directly for some time, have expressed a strong preference for engaging through government leadership in all countries. This is to ensure a coordinated and organised approach to each country’s vaccine distribution, in the context of massive global demand, and the importance of a coordinated national strategy,” said Felicity Hudson the spokesperson for Discovery Health.
Hudson said that the pooling of vaccine procurement would lead to better negotiation terms, more organised distribution and a well-coordinated national vaccination campaign.
She said isolated approaches to vaccine distribution were not sustainable and would undermined the economic and health benefits of aggregate population immunity.
“Considering this critical global and national imperative, the medical scheme industry is collaborating closely with the national department of health to ensure access for all South Africans to the vaccine, and especially for the priority groups,” she said.
This was formally published in an amendment to the Medical Schemes Act Prescribed Minimum Benefits legislation signed by the health minister on Monday, January 4 2021.
Hudson said following the government gazette publication and after consultations with various stakeholders, medical aid schemes were effectively obliged by law to fund the Covid-19 vaccine as a prescribed minimum benefit.
“Further to this, medical schemes have agreed to support a pricing arrangement for the vaccines, which ensures that a surplus is generated by the schemes’ purchases of the vaccines, that can be used to cross-subsidise higher risk non-medical scheme members, on a one-for-one basis. This means that for each vaccine procured for a medical scheme member, sufficient surplus is generated through procurement arrangements for the vaccine to subsidise the vaccination of one non-medical scheme member,” she explained.
All vaccines must be approved by the SA Health Product Regulatory Authority (Saphra) before they can be used locally and nobody can procure vaccines until approval has been granted by Saphra.
“Accelerating this approval process requires strong collaboration between public and private stakeholders. Saphra has already taken steps to set out and ensure an expedited approval process, through cooperation with international regulators,” said Hudson.
The national department of health said it would handled the negotiations and payments for South Africa’s first tranche of Covid-19 vaccines.
“We also want to inform the public that the acquisition has been done directly by the department of health. This strengthens the credibility of the process as all the negotiations and payment issues are managed directly by government with the manufacture,” said Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize.
Mkhize said that South Africa’s million healthcare workers would be prioritized in the first stage of the vaccine roll-outs.