South African Firms to Help Fund, Facilitate Vaccine Rollout

South Africa’s biggest companies are in talks with government to help finance and facilitate the rollout of coronavirus vaccines in a program they estimate will cost 12 billion rand ($802 million), an alliance of the country’s largest business organizations said.

Plans are being drafted to help with logistics and funding and talks are being held with the National Treasury and Department of Health to surmount any obstacles and bring “private-sector finance to the party,” said Martin Kingston, chairman of the steering committee at B4SA, or Business For South Africa, said in a briefing Wednesday.

“South Africa faces the unprecedented challenge of vaccinating her people,” Kingston said in a separate statement. “We have therefore resolved to reshape B4SA to have a singular focus -- supporting the national vaccine program under the leadership of the national government.”

The bid by business to aid the government comes after criticism from scientists, labor unions and opposition parties that no direct deals with drugmakers were concluded in 2020. In recent weeks, the government has announced several supply deals and some vaccinations are expected to begin this month. At least 66 countries have started administering the shots ahead of South Africa.

Africa’s Worst

With almost 1.5 million confirmed cases and close to 45,000 deaths, South Africa is the country on the continent that’s been hardest hit by the pandemic.

Obstacles include a large number of undocumented migrants in South Africa, a result of its prosperity relative to other nations on the continent, and how they will be vaccinated to ensure that the virus does not keep spreading, according to the business alliance.

B4SA has also agreed with government that once health workers have been vaccinated, it will be involved in talks so as to decide which groups should be considered essential workers and move further ahead in the queue for vaccines.

“We know that the health-care workers have been defined, but essential workers is still a process that is being embarked on,” Kingston said. “It has been agreed yesterday that we will be intimately involved in discussing the definitions of essential workers and other phase-two beneficiaries.”

Mining Firms Could Vaccinate 80k People Daily, Lobby Group Says

Local lenders are expecting an allocation from the government in the second phase of the rollout because their employees are seen as essential workers, Bongiwe Kunene, managing director of South Africa’s banking association, said by phone on Thursday. Banks will likely agree on how to distribute vaccines among staff and they’re preparing facilities to administer them, she said.

Banks have remained open as they are among the collection points used by social grant beneficiaries in South Africa.

While all vaccines are being procured through the government it has been agreed that the private sector will be offered doses the state no longer requires, Kingston said.

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