Covid-19 vaccine prep targets looting
Vaccine process to be centralised in effort to prevent a repeat of vast PPE corruption
The government has centralised the vaccine rollout and implemented new safety checks to prevent the corruption and looting that overwhelmed the rollout of personal protective equipment (PPE) last year.
President Cyril Ramaphosa and health minister Zweli Mkhize went on an expansive publicity drive this week to highlight the government's efforts to ensure a tight ship.
This includes centralising all transactions and involving the auditor-general to ensure any gaps are spotted and closed before deals are finalised.
The acquisition and co-ordination of the vaccine rollout will be handled internally by the government, and private companies will assist with storage and distribution.
In an interview this week, Mkhize said the government believed it had “a reasonable chance of running a tight and well-controlled operation” in terms of the acquisition, storage and distribution of vaccines.
“What we have done is to get the Treasury and the Department of Health's office of the chief procurement officer to oversee any form of transaction that is going to happen.
“Right now the procurement of the vaccines is within government. It makes it easier because it's a tight-knit set of people, the prices are known, the manufacturers are known, the deviation is specific and it's not the same as what we had in PPE where there were so many vendors, suppliers and so many different prices,” he said.
As an additional step, the department has set up an appointment with the auditor-general to present its approach and seek guidance.
“We are going to say [to the AG]... these are the risks we have identified and ask them to analyse our plans and see if there are further risks we must be aware of and how we can work together to prevent any risk of looting,” Mkhize said.
He said the government is on high alert and cannot have a “repeat of the PPE situation”.
Mkhize said business, the private sector and medical schemes have also raised concerns. Medical aid schemes will subsidise vaccine purchases for those who are not covered by private health insurance, and have already committed to purchase vaccines for their members, with business assisting if there is a funding shortfall.
The private sector will also provide the government with skills, resources and capacity to allocate, distribute and administer the vaccines, as well as help with tracking and tracing and monitoring for any adverse effects of taking the vaccines.
“We have a multi-sector oversight structure that includes business, civil society. They will have sight of the processes of procurement so that if there is any concern they can raise it immediately and we can deal with it then.”
Mkhize said transparency will safeguard SA from any risk of corruption.
A health department report distributed to stakeholders this month details how contractors' vehicles that deliver vaccines will have vehicle tracking and monitoring, with security deployed at administration points. Vaccines will be bar coded for tracking purposes and there will be strict data verification of volumes distributed against volumes administered.
In terms of funding, Ramaphosa told the Sunday Times this week that though SA could have done more to fight Covid-19 if it had more money, there will be no compromises when it comes to rolling out vaccines.
“On our side, we could have done a lot more if we had the money,” he admitted.
“If we had the money to do what many countries have done, [which is] to pre-pay, or to say to Pfizer, 'We will give you money without knowing whether it will succeed'. we could have done that but we didn't have the money.”
However, Ramaphosa said when it came to funding the vaccine, “we are going to have the money, it will come from Treasury. There is just no way we can say, when it comes to saving the lives of South Africans, that we don't have the money. The money will be there. It has to be there to save the lives of South Africans. That one will be my bottom line.”
He said the Treasury will be the leading department during the procurement process now under way.
SA has paid a deposit of R283m to the Covax programme to secure a vaccine for 10% of the country's population in the second quarter of the year. Some 12-million vaccine doses will be delivered from Covax. The government has also secured 1.5-million vaccine doses from AstraZeneca and 9-million from Johnson & Johnson (J&J).
“We are having direct negotiations with all of them, Pfizer, J&J and AstraZeneca,” said Ramaphosa. “J&J will be producing through Aspen here at home, and we are hoping to get the bulk of our supply from there, once the production starts.”
Asked if he was satisfied with the manner in which the Treasury is responding to the needs of the country in terms of vaccines, he said: “Yes, Treasury has done the best that they can. Even when we were dealing with the PPE they set in place certain systems and regulations, but obviously along the way those systems and regulations were violated, so there have been those weaknesses in the broader framework of the system.”