Parly health committee urges govt to get COVID vaccine earlier than scheduled

The ultimate aim is to vaccinate a minimum of 67% of the population to reach herd immunity by the end of this year.

FILE: Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize visits the Nasrec quarantine and isolation centre on 20 July 2020. Picture: EWN

CAPE TOWN - Parliament’s health portfolio committee has implored the Department of Health to access the COVID-19 vaccine earlier than scheduled.

This is the committee’s main concern about the government’s vaccine rollout following Minister Zweli Mkhize’s announcement on Sunday.

After mounting worries that the country is lagging behind when it comes to obtaining the jab, Mkhize assured the public that bilateral talks have begun with pharmaceutical companies, with the hope that some supplies will arrive by next month.

Mkhize said more than 40 million South Africans were targeted to receive the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the year.

Opposition parties and unions are not the only ones to raise concerns about the timeframes for the vaccine rollout.

Several countries around the world and on the continent have already started vaccinating, with questions now being raised about when South Africa will start the process.

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Health committee chairperson Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo said they would be meeting with Minister Mkhize on Thursday where they would seek clarity, especially on accessing the vaccine early.

“The concern that I have, which he will maybe clarify, is that we wish we could be early in accessing it rather than the second quarter. Can anything be done so that we can get it much earlier?”

DA health spokesperson Siviwe Gwarube said they wanted clarity on a number of issues from Mkhize.

“We want to understand where are we with the bilateral engagements that the minister has spoken about?”

'GOVT DROPPED THE BALL'

Experts on Tuesday say the South African government dropped the ball in terms of negotiations for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Professor Alex van den Heever from the Wits School of Governance said the country seeing delivery in February was technically quite difficult given that government hadn’t been negotiating bilateral arrangements timeously.

“We have dropped the ball in that respect, but the question now is really how quickly government can pick it up again.”

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He said there were many risks.

“The only risk is that there are a lot of countries vying for available vaccines and the question is whether we get pushed to the back of the queue or can we find a way in to at least get some of our high-risk groups vaccinated in February and March.”

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