JOHANNESBURG, March 29 (Reuters) - South African health
insurer Discovery Ltd said on Monday it was in contact
with all COVID-19 vaccine producers but cannot independently
source vaccines as procurement and distribution is in the hands
of the government.
As in many countries, vaccine procurement in South Africa is
centralised and controlled by government but the pace of
procurement and inoculation has been slow, with less than
250,000 people, or just 0.5% of the population vaccinated so
This has prompted calls from health experts to allow the
private sector to source vaccines to bolster government efforts.
"While we (Discovery) might be in contact with vaccine
manufacturers, the acquisition of the vaccine and the policy for
who receives it and in what sequence remains the exclusive
responsibility of government, until such time as government
informs otherwise," said Ryan Noach, CEO of the company's
medical scheme administrator Discovery Health.
"We have been in regular liaison with vaccine manufacturers
since September 2020," Noach said in an emailed response to
Reuters. He said the company is taking all measures to "ensure
the procurement is efficient, and stock available quickly,
especially for the most at risk."
South Africa's vaccine rollout faced a blow in early
February when it decided to halt the rollout of AstraZeneca's
shots on concerns about its effectiveness against the
501Y.V2 variant that caused a huge spurt in infections late last
The country has since opted for Johnson & Johnson's
vaccine under an "implementation study."
In a note to the members on Friday, Discovery's group CEO
Adrian Gore said the company was aiming to vaccinate its three
million adult members, with the capacity of 50,000 vaccinations
per day starting in May, if vaccine supplies are on time.
"This will enable all of Discovery's 550,000 high-risk
members to be vaccinated within a few weeks," he said.
South Africa's Health Ministry did not immediately respond
to Reuters request for comment when asked about private vaccine
(Reporting by Promit Mukherjee. Editing by Jane Merriman)