Health minister Zweli Mkhize. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Health minister Zweli Mkhize. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

The health department has released its proposals for establishing a no-fault compensation fund for claims of serious side-effects caused by coronavirus vaccines.

The fund is one of the key pre-conditions set by Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers Johnson & Johnson (J&J) and Pfizer in their negotiations with the government. Both companies have sought exemption from liability for harm caused by their vaccines to recipients in SA, requiring the government to set up a no-fault compensation fund that limits claims to the fund or the government.

A key aspect of the agreements with the vaccine manufacturers is that regulations establishing the fund must be in place by April 30, according to health minister Zweli Mkhize.

The Covid-19 Vaccine Injury Compensation Fund is to be established in terms of regulations to the Disaster Management Act. Interested parties have until April 19 to comment on the proposals.

The draft regulations say the fund is intended to offer eligible people “expeditious and easy access to compensation” for injury caused by Covid-19 vaccines, but do not specify which entity will administer claims and payouts. They make provision for the health department to either do this job in house — which it could potentially do via the Compensation Commission for Occupational Diseases — or outsource it to a service provider, such as an insurance administrator.

The draft regulations say the fund will compensate people for severe vaccine side-effects that cause permanent or significant injury, serious harm to a person’s health, or death. Claims are restricted to vaccines approved by the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority, and procured by the government.

The regulations make provision for the health minister to appoint an adjudication panel and an appeal panel to deal with claims, as well as a governance and oversight committee headed by a retired judge. Mkhize said on Wednesday that this role will be filled by former chief justice Sandile Ngcobo, who chaired the Competition Commission’s market inquiry into the private health-care sector.

“We believe his extensive experience as a jurist makes him an ideal candidate to oversee that all claims and processes are followed by the fund to uphold the principles of fairness, transparency and equity, and protect the constitutional rights of our citizens,” he said.

Addressing parliament’s portfolio committee on health, Mkhize said the fund would be largely financed by the government, but did not elaborate on what other sources of funding are being considered by the government.

SA has ordered 31-million doses of J&J’s single shot vaccine and 30-million doses of Pfizer’s double-shot regimen. It is also in line to receive 117,000 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine from the international vaccine initiative Covax, which has set up a no-fault compensation plan for vaccine injury claims. However, the Covax compensation scheme is restricted to the 92 poorest countries it supports and excludes self-financing countries such as SA.

kahnt@businesslive.co.za

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