South Africa

Cyril Ramaphosa says the government will fund vaccines, even if it has to borrow money

The primary source of vaccine funding for SA will be the fiscus, even if it means increasing public borrowing, President Cyril Ramaphosa has said.

“This is a public good that is vital to the well-being of all our people, and it is therefore correct that public funding should be used, even if this means increasing public borrowing,” Ramaphosa said during his political overview of the ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) lekgotla.

He said finance minister Tito Mboweni would outline challenges in this regard to the meeting, but “funds will be there to save the lives of our people”.

The lekgotla, which is a biannual meeting to discuss the government’s priorities, started on Friday and was attended by the party’s alliance partners, structures, and other guests from business, civil society and traditional leaders.

The government has been left scrambling to source Covid-19 vaccines after failing to place orders with manufacturers in time. SA’s vaccine project aims to inoculate more than 40-million people to reach herd immunity.

More than 30-million doses of vaccine have so far been promised to SA in direct deals with manufacturers and agreements with multilateral agencies, including the Covax facility, organised by the World Health Organization and global vaccine alliance, Gavi.

While the government has been on a media offensive to assure citizens that the vaccines will be available, there has been little information on when they will arrive, who will supply them, and how much they will cost.

Business Day reported this week that SA would pay a huge premium on the shots it has secured directly from the Serum Institute of India (SII), with the government agreeing to pay $5.25 (about R78) a dose, more than twice the price the EU negotiated directly with AstraZeneca in 2020.

The government announced in early January that it had secured 1.5-million doses of the SII’s Covishield shot, which the institute is manufacturing under licence from AstraZeneca.

Ramaphosa told the lekgotla that vaccines are due to arrive in the country in a week or two, while the inter-ministerial committee he appointed, chaired by deputy president David Mabuza, would begin work to get things ready.

The president said the government is also in discussions with the private sector for companies to make further contributions, either to a pooled fund, or, where employers are able, to cover the cost of vaccination for their workers.

“Many of them have also shown a willingness not only to help with the vaccination initiative of their employees but also people living in surrounding communities,” he said, adding that some of these companies are in the mining industry.

The president said medical aids have also done a lot of work on funding models, which would see them covering the cost of vaccines for their members. The government is also working with them to see the extent to which they can help fund others, he said.

“Through these funding approaches, we anticipate we will be able to cover the cost of the purchase, storage, distribution and administration of all the vaccines we need,” Ramaphosa said.

The vaccination drive will be the largest logistical exercise in SA’s history.

However, Ramaphosa said the government is not sure at what pace it will be able to vaccinate the population, or when SA will reach herd immunity.

“This reality must underpin all our discussions, because there is almost no area of our lives that will not be affected by the virus,” he said.

The ANC NEC lekgotla is sitting, virtually, until Sunday. Key discussions at the meeting will be the pandemic, economic recovery and reconstruction, and local government and service delivery, which comes ahead of this year’s local government elections.

quintalg@businesslive.co.za

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