Why you won’t be getting ‘private’ Covid vaccines any time soon: medical aid

 ·5 Mar 2021

Civil society group Afriforum announced this week that there was no legal restriction preventing the private sector from sourcing and purchasing Covid-19 vaccines.

Profmed chief executive Craig Comrie says that this revelation is not new – but is rendered moot by the fact that government still gets to set the Single Exit Price (SEP) at double the vaccine’s cost, and that vaccine suppliers are not interested in fulfilling small orders at the moment.

“Medicines are regulated in price similar to the way bread and petrol is. In this case, the minister of Health will set the price for all Covid-19 vaccines,” said Comrie.

“Government is given license to effectively load the price of vaccines to promote the use of a state-run central vaccine rollout programme, while using the increased ‘profit’ to cross-subsidise, or even tax, privately procured vaccines.

“This pricing mechanism is already set to be included in the price of the vaccines that government procures,” he said.

Paying double 

To illustrate this point, Comrie provided an example: If the actual cost of a vaccine dose is R250, the current intention from government is to set the regulated price at R500.

“If you are a private facility buying this from Biovac, government, or even vaccine producers, then you are paying R500 and thereby providing the additional money to cross-subsidise other vaccinations for South Africans who cannot afford it.”

This is how government intends to pay for the so-called ‘one-for-one finance arrangements’ that it requested from medical schemes in January, Comrie said.

He said that Profmed’s position remains that any additional cost contained in the regulated price may be validated if this translates to a quicker vaccine rollout which must happen before the end of 2021.

However, Comrie said that this would mean government needs to vaccinate four million people a month for the next 10 months.

“That is no soft target, but it is doable with the right level of engagement between government and private sectors,” he said. “It will just take a little bit of innovation and significant coordination to make sure we get vaccines to all who are willing to receive them.”

Although Afriforum has been extremely vocal about the issue of privately procured vaccines, Comrie said healthcare groups have already engaged suppliers, and the response has always been the same: efforts to procure vaccines in orders under 10 million doses were rejected.

“These type of orders could only come from governments ,and so far, (suppliers) have refused to engage with private sector on a smaller scale.”

Comrie said that this has put a damper on private procurement but said he has been assured by vaccine manufacturers that as production levels pick up in the second half of 2021, the private sector will then be able to purchase vaccines from these suppliers.

Read: South Africa to miss Covid-19 vaccination targets

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