When Dr Mkhize briefed the committee on the Department of Health’s readiness to implement its rollout strategy for the Covid-19 vaccines recently, the efficacy of the vaccines came under the intense spotlight of the Portfolio Committee on Health.

The committee asked if the vaccines are safe and effective. Responding to that question, Dr Mkhize said: The degree of the efficacy of these vaccines is important, but currently there is no proven medical analysis that there’s a direct correlation between the individual’s idiosyncratic responses or death and their efficacy.”

Tests are still underway to determine whether individual health condition was not a contributing factor to illness or death. “But as I said, our tests are also underway to determine exactly that,” Dr Mkhize said.

He assured the committee that in their procurement of the vaccines, the department ensured that they are safe to use, effective in combatting the virus and that they are affordable.

Members of the committee wanted to know from Dr Mkhize why there is a strong perception among South Africans that we are paying more for these vaccines than some other countries. Dr Mkhize replied: “Unfortunately, there’s no uniformity in the pricing of these vaccines by manufactures. It’s determined by the perceived low or high income of a given country,” he said.

The committee also asked probing questions about the department’s planning and procurement of the vaccine, as well as its communication strategy, which has been criticised by some. The committee also asked about vaccine rollout timelines and tracking, and how much it will cost the National Treasury.

In response, Dr Mkhize said: “The process of procuring these vaccine is cumbersome and most challenging process. Information regarding its availability and rollout changes all the time. Procuring, securing the medical safety and distribution of these vaccine is not as smooth sailing a process as we expected.”

He added: “The logistical engagement involving price negotiation in this process is beyond what we expected. The scramble by countries to acquire the vaccines for their citizens is intense and the competition is too high. These are matters that hamstrung the free flow of information on our part at every turn.”   

In the light of all the cultural, geographic, demographic, safety, efficacy and affordability challenges that this rollout is faced with, the committee asked if South Africa has a capacity to produce its own vaccine in future. Dr Mkhize said: “We definitely have such a capacity. South Africa has produced vaccines for other viruses before. That expertise exists. We need to build on that capacity to be in a position produce our own Covid-19 vaccine in the near future.” 

Abel Mputing

8 February 2021