* South Africa still formulating vaccine strategy
* Country among worst-hit by pandemic on continent
* Advisors suggest commitment to COVAX scheme
* Also recommend bilateral talks with manufacturers
JOHANNESBURG, Nov 11 (Reuters) - South Africa should aim to cover 10% of its population via a global coronavirus vaccine scheme while also negotiating directly with manufacturers, a group of experts has advised the government.
South Africa has recorded the most novel coronavirus infections of any African nation. While it has publicly expressed support for the COVAX scheme co-led by the World Health Organization, it has yet to make the formal commitment confirming its participation.
The race to secure enough vaccines to protect at-risk groups is heating up following Monday’s announcement by Pfizer that its vaccine candidate is more than 90% effective based on initial trial results.
“There are two arms which we are recommending in terms of vaccine procurement: to make a commitment to COVAX but also to meet with various manufacturers to negotiate (potential bilateral deals),” Barry Schoub, chair of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on vaccines, told Reuters.
Schoub said it was too soon for South Africa to conclude agreements with individual manufacturers because officials would want to interrogate late-stage clinical trial data.
But he said COVAX would provide an initial batch of “kick-off” vaccines with which to start protecting vulnerable people.
The advisory committee is helping the government formulate its vaccine strategy.
Khadija Jamaloodien, director of affordable medicines at the health ministry, told Reuters the strategy would be based on scientific evidence.
“There are negotiations under way with the COVAX facility with a view to entering into a commitment. In addition, there have been exploratory discussions with manufacturers,” she said.
South Africa is operating in a highly constrained fiscal environment, so it wants to avoid wasting precious public resources. Unlike many other African countries, South Africa does not qualify for subsidised vaccines via COVAX because it is classified as an upper middle income country.
Jamaloodien said South Africa was still trying to negotiate terms with COVAX.
“The areas of concern are pricing and cost, payment terms, regulatory issues including liability, vaccine choice and participation in COVAX facility governance structures,” she said.
Covering 10% of South Africa’s roughly 58 million people via COVAX could cost around 2 billion rand ($127.6 million), according to a Reuters calculation based on the facility’s estimated all-inclusive vaccine cost.
$1 = 15.6791 rand Reporting by Alexander Winning Editing by Joe Bavier and Bernadette Baum
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