CHARMAINE NGATJIHEUE and SHELLEYGAN PETERSEN
NAMIBIANS can expect the first doses of the novel coronavirus vaccine to arrive by the end of the month or the first few days of February.
According to the World Health Organisation initiative, the Covax facility, Namibia may get a small scale “first wave” of deliveries of the Pfizer vaccine around that time.
Health minister Kalumbi Shangula yesterday said Namibia has made progress in acquiring vaccines by paying 15% or N$29,3 million of the N$169,5 million expected by the facility.
The first payment is for Namibia to get vaccine doses for 20% of the population or 508 200 people.
“The government has also signed a Financial Commitment Agreement on 5 November 2020 for the remaining US$9 096 780 (roughly N$140,2 million),” the minister added.
Between 60% and 80% of the population needs to be vaccinated to achieve a sufficient level of herd immunity.
In line with this, Namibia is also engaging Pfizer Inc, China, Russia, and other countries that are making progress in the manufacturing of the vaccines for possible bilateral deals and/or donations.
The vaccine will be prioritised for frontline healthcare workers and vulnerable groups.
Meanwhile, the Pfizer vaccine needs to be kept extremely cold at minus 70 degrees Celsius, which is colder than winter in Antarctica.
However, Shangula revealed that inventory of cold chain equipment for storage and distribution of the vaccine is almost complete, but additional equipment for vaccines that require extreme cold temperatures may be required.
The Covid-19 National Vaccine Taskforce is also planning human resources and training to deliver the vaccine rapidly once it becomes available, while the National Medicine Regulatory Council is finalising the framework approval of the WHO pre-qualified and other vaccines once doses become available.
GOVERNMENT ENGAGES MEDICAL AIDS
Shangula and finance minister Iipumbu Shiimi will meet with the Namibian Association of Medical Aid Funds (Namaf) and their members next week to discuss the procurement of the Covid-19 vaccine.
“The idea of this discussion is really to say that each Namibian, being an individual, being corporate and being any specific industry player in the medical sector, needs to make a contribution to combating the pandemic,” Shiimi said.
Both ministers yesterday met with the regulators of the medical aid industry, namely Namibia Financial Institutions Supervisory Authority (Namfisa) and Namaf, to introduce the discussion.
Shangula yesterday called on the medical aid industry to support beneficiaries of their medical aid schemes to access the vaccine.
“Additional resources need to be secured for the acquisition of additional doses to vaccinate at least up to 60% of the population in order to achieve a desirable level of herd immunity,” Shangula said, adding that the Ministry of Finance, in conjunction with Namfisa and Namaf, are exploring avenues to fund the vaccine. “We will provide additional details in the coming days,” he said.
Furthermore, the chief executive officer of Namaf, Stephen Tjiuoro, said boards of trustees of the individual medical aid funds are yet to meet to discuss the possible procuring of vaccines.
“The conversation just started last week and trustees are not back yet, so we need to meet to discuss,” Tjiuoro said.
“I am sure that they will show willingness to the government because medical aid funds are there to provide healthcare in times like these,” he added.
Tjiuoro believes that the government must guide the industry in this process.
Private medical aid funds in Namibia cover about 8% of the population, which represents roughly 200 000 citizens.
PHARMACEUTICAL COUNCIL BACKS GOVT
The Pharmaceutical Society of Namibia has thrown its weight behind the government-initiated Covid-19 vaccine procurement plan.
The government is pursuing vaccine acquisition through the Covax facility, which caters to poor-to-middle-income countries.
The Pharmaceutical Society of Namibia’s vice president, Ulrich Ritter, told The Namibian on Monday that they prefer the government taking the lead.
“They make sure the vaccine is coordinated in the national interest by the national health authority and will be given to the most vulnerable people… At this stage it makes sense for the process to go through the government,” Ritter said.
He said international vaccine-producing companies may not want to negotiate with individual companies regarding the vaccine and would first opt to deal with different governments.
“For logistics purposes, these companies cannot entertain individual requests. They simply do not entertain that and it is understandable. The big outcry is the first round of supply which is limited, but as research continues, different vaccines may be available with time,” he added.
Meanwhile, the South African civil society group, AfriForum, and Trade Union Solidarity are taking legal action against that country’s government’s decision to buy and distribute Covid-19 vaccines.
This comes after South Africa kicked off negotiations for the vaccine with the University of Oxford and the biotech firm AstraZeneca. The health minister, Zweli Mkhize, said SA will be receiving one million doses this month and 500 000 doses in February.
South Africa will prioritise the vaccination of its 1,25 million healthcare workers.
Ritter said at this stage, worldwide, the vaccine is limited due to research coming up now.
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