S.African medical fund to vaccinate 30% of all adults
Published: Jan 07, 2021 06:48 PM

A medic examines a patient on the Phelophepa Health train in Springs in Springs, Johannesburg, South Africa, Sept. 10, 2020. (Photo: Xinhua)

Millions of South Africans will have their COVID-19 vaccinations subsidized by medical schemes that pool health insurance premiums through an agreement with the government, a top medical scheme administrator said.

Under the arrangement, medical schemes will pay above cost for doses for their members - roughly 7 million adults over the age of 15 - subsidizing procurement for another 7 million adults who are without private medical cover, said Ryan Noach, chief executive of the country's largest medical scheme administrator, Discovery Health.

In all, vaccines for around 30 percent of the country's adult population would be financed by the agreement.

Africa's most advanced economy aims to vaccinate a minimum of 67 percent of its population against the coronavirus to reach herd immunity, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said.

But it is yet to start vaccinating or receive its first doses, and some local health experts and trade unions have publicly criticized the government for moving too slowly with its vaccine strategy.

Noach told Reuters on Wednesday that the cost to medical schemes of buying the vaccines could reach a maximum of 7 billion rand ($464.2 million) but may be much less. That was "completely digestible," he said, since it represented less than 2 percent of gross annual premiums.

Many medical schemes ended 2020 with large surpluses because non-coronavirus related healthcare was drastically reduced during the pandemic, he added.

"What's important is the funding is there, and we've got to secure offtake of the vaccines," Noach said.

South Africa intends to procure its vaccines centrally, and negotiations with vaccine manufacturers are being handled by the government.