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THE BIG STORY: THE GREAT VACCINE RACE

Let out a cheer: the Department of Health made the amazing announcement today that it has sourced vaccines for our health workers! 

We’re still awaiting the details, but this is great news given growing concern about SA’s vaccine plan. However, this issue is not straight-forward.

You may have read that SA’s authorities haven’t done well in securing vaccines for the country. This may be true, but not because of ineptitude. In the unprecedented race to develop a vaccine, there are hundreds on offer to countries, with little guarantee if they will work amid largely secrecy-clad negotiations by big pharma. Richer countries can afford to buy up many multiples for their populations, and bet against one of them working out. We just don’t have the financial muscle to do that. Even various new deals that see rich countries helping poorer ones, like the Covax facility you may have heard about, are a big gamble. (Within Covax, SA won’t get financial help as we are considered a middle-income country.)

Meanwhile, big pharma has come under pressure; activists are demanding that they make details of taxpayer-funded deals public. Billions in government and philanthropic funding have gone to these companies, and while they have committed to not making a profit off vaccines during the pandemic, they’re at liberty to decide when that commitment ends.

The irony is, at least four Covid-19 vaccine clinical trials are being conducted in SA, and two vaccines are potentially being manufactured right here. But there is no guarantee of preferential pricing or supplies for South Africans.

But take heart: if you belong to a medical aid scheme, you’ll receive the vaccine as a prescribed minimum benefit, according to Business Day.

This story was originally published in The Wrap here.

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