Why South Africa may be ‘at the back of the queue’ for a COVID-19 vaccine

Despite hosting trials for several COVID-19 vaccine frontrunners, South Africa seems to have ‘slipped behind’ other nations in the procurement race.

Let’s be honest, 2020 has truly been the year where parades have been rained on. So it may not come as a surprise to most South Africans that there could be another bump in the road as we plot our path out of lockdown. 


According to a report in Rapport, South Africa is falling behind in the procurement race: Several factors may end up limiting our access to a fully-functioning coronavirus jab – and the treatment is seen as the most effective way to end the pandemic.

A series of logistical challenges – and apparent ‘government inaction’ – could now hamper attempts to distribute the vaccine rapidly across South Africa. There are five key stumbling blocks that may put Mzansi ‘to the back of the queue’:

  • The government has not started negotiating with the manufacturers who are running vaccine trials in the country.
  • Around 40% of major vaccination programmes are being tested in South Africa – but this does not guarantee preference.
  • Quite simply, others are acting faster: Namibia and Botswana have already entered into an international procurement agreement.
  • Nine billion vaccine dosages have been snapped up by other major economies – figures for SA haven’t been made public.
  • It’s going to cost an estimated R2 billion to secure vaccines for only 10% of the South African population. For a government that is reportedly ‘running out of money’, a figure like R20 billion doesn’t just appear out of thin air.


Pharmaceutical company Pfizer announced that their vaccine was ‘90% effective’ just a few days ago, marking a pivotal moment in the battle against COVID-19. Several other jabs – including the ones produced by Oxford and Astra-Zeneca – are also nearing an official roll-out date. But what does that mean for South Africa?

We’ve since learned that the Health Department is going to address the issue soon, with an update on vaccine procurement due next week. However, there’s a chance that SA may have to play catch-up in this particular race.

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