Biovac to distribute vaccines to South Africa healthcare workers: letter

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa has a three-month plan to import, store and distribute coronavirus vaccines for frontline healthcare workers through a contract with pharmaceutical company Biovac Institute, a letter from the National Treasury shows.

FILE PHOTO: Healthcare workers tend to a patient at a temporary ward set up during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria, South Africa, January 19, 2021. Phill Magakoe/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

This is the first detail on how the government plans to roll out its COVID-19 vaccine plan, following concerns that the creaking public health system would not be able to manage a large-scale vaccination programme without the involvement of the private sector.

In the letter written by Director-General Dondo Mogajane to non-profit organisation Corruption Watch (CW) and provided to Reuters by CW, Treasury has given the Department of Health approval to deviate from normal procurement processes for the transportation, storage and distribution of the vaccines in the short term.

The National Treasury and spokespeople for the Department of Health did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

With around 1.37 million total cases and more than 38,000 deaths as of Thursday, South Africa is by far the African nation hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic and is grappling with a second wave of infections driven by a new variant of the virus first identified in the country.

Cape Town-based Biovac, part-owned by the government, has been appointed for three months to provide storage and distribution services for vaccines to inoculate frontline healthcare workers, the letter showed.

“Biovac will be involved in the importation, cold chain storage and distribution of the 1.5 million doses,” Biovac CEO Morena Makhoana told Reuters.

South Africa has said it will receive 1.5 million doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 shot from the Serum Institute of India (SII), spread over January and February.


Regarding storage and distribution of vaccines in the medium term - over a period of six months - the letter said the government is approaching Imperial Logistics’ Health Sciences unit, Denmark’s DSV Panalpina, pharmacy chain Clicks Group’s United Pharmaceutical Distributors (UPD) and Biovac in a closed bidding process.

Imperial said it was expecting the government’s formal request for quote (RFQ) for the distribution of vaccines “in the coming days”.

“Imperial will participate, following which we will await the final outcome of the RFQ process,” it said in an emailed response to Reuters.

DSV said it could not comment outside of its closed reporting period while Clicks referred questions to the Department of Health.

The Treasury’s Mogajane was responding to CW’s Executive Director David Lewis who had written to the Treasury seeking clarity regarding emergency procurement and roll-out of vaccines.

Mogajane noted that the Auditor-General would be asked at the “appropriate time” to conduct real-time audits of the vaccines procurement process.

“CW is pleased that the Auditor-General will be involved in oversight of the use of public money for vaccine procurement,” the non-profit CW said in a statement on Thursday.

South Africa aims to vaccinate 40 million people, or two-thirds of its population, by the end of 2021.

Reporting by Nqobile Dludla and Wendell Roelf; editing by Promit Mukherjee, Jason Neely and Emelia Sithole-Matarise