Leading SA scientists pen proposal for 'equitable and timeous access to Covid-19 vaccine'

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  • South Africa needs to speed up vaccine registration
  • A public-private partnership is needed to ensure that most of the population is vaccinated
  • Prioritising people who need the vaccine the most should be in the front of the line

The country's top scientists have some advice for government on how to ensure everyone gets the Covid-19 jab. Here is a summary of what they had to say.

1. Expedite the registration or licensure of Covid-19 vaccines

For a vaccine to be used on citizens, it needs to be approved by the country’s medicine regulator, the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA). The experts suggest that once the Covid-19 vaccine distribution company has positioned itself in SA, the body should prioritise approval of the vaccine.

The scientist suggest that SAHPRA can use standards of approval that are set by European Medicines Agency, Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency and Food and Drug Administration approval for Emergency Use Authorisation in the United States.

2. Collaborative coordinated financing mechanisms

The scientists are calling for a public-private relationship towards funding access for the vaccine. They estimate that funding the vaccine for the entire population would cost roughly R36bn. T

Therefore, they suggest that medical aids foot the bill for their members, which will help the government pay for those who don’t have medical aid.

3. Strategic deployment for maximum impact on both the public health benefit and individual benefit

The experts recommend that people who are most vulnerable should be prioritised for getting the jab. This will include health workers, elderly people and people with comorbidities.

4. Transparent communication of the access plan to the public to promote trust and address issue of vaccine hesitancy

Experts suggest that government must effectively deal with the myths and misconceptions that abound when it comes to the Covid-19 vaccine.

The government needs to be transparent on how it will navigate the complex mechanisms of competitive pricing, patent protection, generic manufacturing and licensure in a way that benefits the country.

5. Access strategy: ‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket’

The state needs to have a clear plan on how it will ensure equitable access, on how it will choose the vaccine that the country will be using and also provide a strategy on how it will get a transfer of skills to ensure that the vaccine can be produced locally.

6. Supply-chain management

Government needs to ensure that it has an efficient supply chain to meet the demand. It needs to look at the current system of medicine delivery and how it can leverage it to ensure smooth delivery of the vaccine.

7. Alternative delivery systems close to target audience

On top of looking at its current delivery systems, the government needs to look at new options such as e-commerce or even using aircraft to deliver the vaccine.

With that it needs to develop track-and-trace systems in communities, and these could easily be repurposed for distribution of vaccines.

8. Simple data systems that capture proof of vaccination

Government needs to develop a monitoring system that will capture those who have been vaccinated. It should be a system that is digital and have a nationwide dashboard to monitor vaccine progress.

9. Dealing with anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists

The state needs to ensure that the anti-vaccination movement (anti-vaxxers) and the propagation of conspiracy theories do not succeed in SA. It will need to build a communication strategy that involves stakeholders like civil society, religious groups and traditional healers. 

10. Going to scale to end our epidemic

Government needs to ensure that there is an access to a vaccine by next winter. To ensure that the country has herd immunity and for the country to go back to normal, the vaccine should be accessible before the winter months in 2021.

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