Healthcare workers’ vaccines will be free

The long-awaited first batch of the Covid-19 vaccine will land on South African shores on 1 February, with the first person being vaccinated around the second week of the month, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has confirmed during an online briefing on Wednesday evening.

Healthcare workers receive the AstraZeneca vaccine, also known as Covishield, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, during the vaccination programme’s first phase.

The two-dose vaccine has an efficacy rate of between 62% and 90%. It will be administered at a dosing interval of four to twelve weeks. The Ministerial Advisory Committee for Covid-19 is recommending a 12-week interval. 

Mild to moderate side effects have been reported in countries where the vaccine has already been administered.

“From the reports that we have had so far, the side effects relate largely to tenderness in the injection site, headache, fatigue, myalgia (muscle pain), malaise (general feeling of discomfort), pyrexia (fever), and a bit of chill. But these are only for a few days,” says Dr Anban Pillay, the deputy director general for health regulation and compliance at the department of health.  

The country’s more than 1.2-million healthcare workers will be expected to use a self-enrollment portal, known as the electronic vaccination data system, where they will be able to book their vaccination date.

The system will allow the administrators to capture the data of all of the healthcare workers who registered and booked an appointment on the healthcare worker booking system app.

For healthcare workers with medical insurance, the costs will be claimed back from their medical schemes, but the vaccine will be administered for free at the point of service.

“Providers in the private sector will bill medical schemes for the cost of the vaccines as well as the administration fee,” said the technical advisor for the health department, Dr Aquina Thulare. Medical schemes are compelled to cover the cost, she said. “We have already declared the vaccination for Covid-19 as a prescribed minimum benefit, which means that schemes are obliged to pay for this service.”

“For those who are uninsured, the public sector is the preferred provider for the vaccination. And since vaccination is a public good, the government will provide funding for this section of the population,” she added.

Out of the 40-million people who are expected to be vaccinated by the end of South Africa’s vaccination campaign, 32.9-million do not have medical insurance. This includes some healthcare workers. 

Ryan Noach, the chief executive of medical scheme Discovery Health, recently told the Mail & Guardian that the medical aid schemes would purchase the vaccines for more than their standard price. The surplus generated from those purchases will be used to cross-subsidise non-insured South Africans. 

Noach said, according to their calculations, medical aid schemes represented 15% of the population. As the vaccine is a prescribed minimum benefit, all medical aid schemes will pay for the vaccines from their risk funds, said Noach.  

The surplus money will help to cover individuals who are not insured. For each person who belongs to a medical aid scheme who is immunised, an uninsured person will also be covered, representing another 15% of the population who will be inoculated. Combined with the 10% the Solidarity Fund has already paid for, about 40% of the population has been budgeted for. 

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Marcia Zali
Marcia Zali is an award winning journalist

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