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Vaccination Reformation - Medical Scheme CEO pleads government to let private sector in

01 July 2021 Profmed

As South Africa rides the third wave of COVID-19 infections, Craig Comrie, CEO of Profmed, is calling for greater private sector involvement in the country’s vaccination rollout.

Comrie says, “The centrally controlled process where government is the sole procurer, distributor and price setter of the vaccines, simply isn’t working and everyone knows it. The low level of private sector engagement has only opened doors to fund the government-controlled programme. But we can deliver so much more value for the nation if we were only let in.”

How does he propose the private sector does this? “We can start by creating shorter turnaround times in distribution and having more vaccination points. It is essential to have all over 60’s vaccinated first but we need more education on vaccines and fewer restrictions or obstacles such as EVDS registration only requirements. Walk-ins for this age group should be welcomed and vaccine stock shortages will quickly give us an idea of where people prefer receiving vaccines and then we can adapt.”

The government has issued instructions to private vaccine sites to not service uncovered people with a fear for the fees and funding required for the administration costs of R80.50 which the government would be required to Fund. This has even affected how stock is allocated where the majority of stock is allocated to public sector vaccine sites There is an understanding that funding is a problem however this can be overcome if non-medical scheme persons are offered the option to pay the R80.50 out of their pocket or if they are unable to pay then they can obtain the vaccine from a public facility at no cost. This would alleviate state run vaccine sites.

For Comrie, if private healthcare was treated as a true partner, the procurement process and distribution mechanisms could have been sped up and enhanced over time. “And if it didn’t go to plan,” explains Comrie. “We would have at least been able to share accountability as a unified force. The bottom line is that we simply cannot afford to leave it where it is if we want to speed up progress and reach population immunity in time to save people and the economy.” With the process being effectively 4 months behind the targeted vaccine rates this is costing lives daily. It’s a shameful that out of an estimated 5.5 million over 60’s we have only vaccinated around 30% of these.

When asked what he would do if he ran the government vaccination rollout from the beginning, Comrie prescribed the following retrospective list of actions:

1. Broaden private sector and public participation, 300 000 vaccines per day target will only be reached with true partnerships where vaccines stocks track demand.
2. There is no need to control every aspect of programme - but rather play a coordinating role
3. Create funding mechanisms with tax incentives like the Solidarity Fund to fund vaccines, not just PPE.
4. Get support from the private sector to mitigate the risk of using a dominant vaccine producer and supplier (split Astra Zenca/JnJ/Pfizer/ Moderna). Many private sector players would have avoided conflict with existing government procurement and can still approached Moderna and others, while correlating this with government approval.
5. The EVDS system creates an unneeded obstacle for many citizens who will never understand and be able to access any digital platform. I would therefore have allowed walk-ins who can register on EVDS at the same time instead of the cumbersome SMS process which has not allowed sufficient time for the person to make travel arrangements to the vaccine sites.
6. Allow those who can to all register on EVDS regardless of age. This would allow for stock distribution planning. Age can always be verified by identity documents at the vaccine sites who would priorities over 60’s or soon to be over 50’s but promoting registration regardless of age can be a comprehensive plan to get everyone on board at the start.
7. I would have offered greater flexibility for walk-ins in public and private facilities. Allowing people to choose their vaccine site in private if they are willing to cover the admin fee when not on a medical scheme.
8. All communications would have been transparent from all corners of the rollout from government to medical schemes to the vaccine producers themselves.

“Obviously this is all retrospective, and it doesn’t help our situation to speculate on what should have happened,” says Comrie. “However, I do believe though that every item on my list is actionable now and can be implemented into the current programme. But this can only happen if our government would move out of its own way and join hands with the entire South African health system, both private and public, so we can make this vaccination rollout work. We are already effectively fighting the 4th and 5 waves of infection.”

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