Nicholas Crisp, the health department’s deputy director-general for National Health Insurance. File photo: ALAISTER RUSSELL
Nicholas Crisp, the health department’s deputy director-general for National Health Insurance. File photo: ALAISTER RUSSELL

A higher proportion of medical scheme members have received a Covid-19 vaccine shot compared with non-medical scheme members under the government’s immunisation drive, raising fairness concerns, a senior health official told parliament on Wednesday evening.

By Tuesday evening, 4.7-million people had received at least one shot. A total 1.6-million recipients were medical scheme members, representing 17.8% of the 8.99-million medical scheme market, while 3.1-million were non-medical scheme members, representing 6% of the 50-million uninsured market, said the department’s deputy director-general for National Health Insurance, Nicholas Crisp.

He conceded the government’s strategy of prioritising sectors such as health-care workers and teachers, most of whom are public servants who belong to medical schemes, has tipped the scales towards the insured market, but said the location of private sector vaccination sites have also played a role. 

The uninsured population is proving hardest to reach in urban areas, particularly in townships, where it is difficult to motivate people to be vaccinated, he said.

The government began providing Covid-19 vaccines to health-care workers in mid-February, and widened access to people over the age of 60 in mid-May, before opening up to other sectoral groups such as teachers and the police.

It is now offering vaccination to everyone aged 35 and over, and is pressing ahead with inoculation drives in the social development and security sectors. Vaccination drives led by large employers such as mines are also under way.

Second shot

In a presentation to parliament’s health portfolio committee, Crisp said the vaccination rate among public servants is highest among health-care workers, who were the first group to be offered vaccines. So far 76% of public sector health-care workers have been vaccinated, with 68.6% fully covered, he said.

Most health-care workers received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but some have received the Pfizer/BioNTech, shot that requires two doses and have yet to receive their second shot.

The vaccination programme is rapidly expanding, and is now providing about 1-million vaccines every four days. It is expected to accelerate to 1-million vaccines every three days by the end of next week, he said.

The aim is to provide at least one vaccine dose to 35-million adults by Christmas, he said.

The supply of vaccines to SA remains relatively constrained, but is expected to improve in August, he said.

He told MPs that SA has enough doses on hand to last 15 days at the current vaccination rate, but is expecting to receive 900,000 Pfizer doses at the weekend, and 5.6-million more in August. The government hopes to receive a delivery from Johnson & Johnson in the first week of August, he said.

The vaccine rollout was dealt a blow by the violence that racked KwaZulu-Natal and parts of Gauteng last week, with 250,000 doses forgone he said.

The health department estimates 25,000 doses were stolen, lost, or destroyed in the riots, he said.

kahnt@businesslive.co.za

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