Thank you for giving the National Treasury the opportunity to respond to inaccuracies in "Belated Shot in the Arm" (Features, January 14-20). Contrary to your article, the Treasury has always been keenly aware of the importance of a mass vaccination programme to protect all people in SA and the economy against the ravages of Covid-19. We have worked hard with the department of health to fund, and remove obstacles to, the procurement of vaccines — and continue to do so — since the first vaccines were proved to be effective overseas.

The Treasury views vaccinations for Covid-19 as a public good, which should be available to all who require them, without charge. This is in the interest of the health system, the economy and saving lives. The vaccine rollout will be a huge programme that will require all role-players (civil society and the public and private sectors) to do what is necessary to ensure success.

The Treasury is committed to ensuring that funding will not be a constraint to the availability of vaccines. The department has received two formal budget requests to support Covid-19 vaccines. The first relates to funding for the Covax agreement; the second, to a larger vaccination programme. The Treasury supported and recommended both of these requests for approval. The details on budgetary allocations will be announced in the 2021 February budget.

To assess the decisions made by the government, it is important to be reminded of the facts at hand, and just how successful the November 28 first phase 3 trial of a Covid-19 vaccine globally turned out to be.

The first Covid-19 vaccine registered in the world was the Pfizer vaccine, registered in the UK on December 2 — about seven weeks ago. The easier-to-store vaccine for SA, AstraZeneca, was approved in the UK only on December 30, less than three weeks ago. There are a number of other vaccines undergoing trials, including Johnson & Johnson, compelling the government to take an informed risk in pre-ordering before trials were concluded. SA opted in 2020 to order only after a vaccine is approved, on the advice of the ministerial advisory committee.

The Treasury fully supports the national rollout of Covid-19 vaccines, in the three phases proposed by the health minister.

Furthermore, the Treasury did not request, but was advised that the Solidarity Fund had generously offered to contribute towards the Covax payment, and was asked to advise on the legally correct way that this could be done. SA is among the first round of countries to receive vaccines through Covax and is anticipated to receive Pfizer doses in February or early March.

The key focus after procuring sufficient vaccines is the huge challenges we face in implementing vaccination programmes, working through provincial health departments. This will require partnerships, particularly with health and logistical companies in the private sector.

In the coming months, several more key scientific trials will report and a growing number of products will begin to be registered through the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority. Important scientific work will examine which vaccines are most suitable, given our mix of viral strains and potential resistance patterns.

The Covid-19 vaccine programme will require enormous national effort and cohesion and we urge all role-players, including the media, to collaborate constructively to make it a success.

National Treasury

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