Government warned about ‘huge’ Covid-19 vaccine theft: report

The health department says that it has been warned by other countries to keep the centralised location of Covid-19 vaccines a secret, as the doses have become a major commodity on the black market.

Department spokesperson Popo Maja, told the City Press this week that government was still working on the centralised system that will keep track of where the vaccine doses will go and who will get them but refused to reveal specifics on when they will be received and when they will be stored.

All he would say is that they will be received “later this month” and that they will be stored in a “centralised place”.

“There is a security issue because countries which have already begun rolling out the vaccines have warned us there is huge theft of it, so we may not even disclose where it’s being centrally stored,” he said.

“The vaccines are a highly rated commodity once they are stolen and reach the black market.”

Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize revealed this week that South Africa had secured approximately 1.5 million doses of the AstaZeneca vaccine from the Serum Institute of India (SII).

The announcement followed a more detailed presentation on the country’s vaccine rollout strategy, which had long been in doubt since government first revealed a plan which was broad, vague and lacked any real detail.

In the newly laid out plan, the health department said that it would handle doses based on pre-vaccination registration and an appointment system tied to a centralised registry. It will roll out in a phased approach, with the first phase targetting an estimated 1.2 million health workforce in the next two months.

It aims to have 67% of the population vaccinated in the next 12 months.

Issues

However, even the new plan has been met with criticism – with health experts again saying it lacks details, and other civil groups pushing back against government’s monopoly of the vaccine, being the sole purchaser of the vaccine in South Africa.

The South African Medical Association told the City Press that government was underestimating the risks involved with distributing the vaccine in South Africa, and has erred in not getting the private sector involved.

Trade union Solidarity and civil society group AfriForum, meanwhile, said they will bring legal action against the government’s proposed ‘monopoly’ on the buying and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.

The two organisations said that they want to ensure that those who seek to get the vaccine are not obstructed from doing so by government mismanagement or corruption.

AfriForum said that the government cannot have a monopoly on deciding who receives the vaccine and who does not.

Allowing the private sector to purchase and distribute Covid-19 vaccines would allow for better efficiency regarding distributing the vaccine to those who want it, to prevent abuse of power by the government, as well as to ensure that government incompetence or corruption does not derail the process, it said.

“Throughout the lockdown period the government has proven that when it has a monopoly on Covid-19 related policies and tasks, corruption and inefficiency tend to be rampant.

“AfriForum therefore seeks to prevent the potential abuse of government power as it relates to the buying and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, by fighting to allow the private sector to assist in this endeavour,” said Ernst van Zyl, campaign officer for Strategy and Content at AfriForum.

Connie Mulder, head of the Solidarity Research Institute, said that South Africa cannot allow the nationalisation of vaccines. The state has a history of failures and South-Africa cannot afford another failure during this crisis, he said.


Read: South Africa’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout plan: who gets it, what it costs, and how government says it will work

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Government warned about ‘huge’ Covid-19 vaccine theft: report