Health gambles with Indian vaccine

01 April 2021 | Health

JEMIMA BEUKES



WINDHOEK

The health ministry is pushing ahead with negotiations for Covishield vaccines despite concerns of its lack of effectiveness against the South African coronavirus variant currently spreading in Namibia.

Covishield is Serum Institute of India's (SII) version of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine that is being produced in collaboration with the University of Oxford.

Government talks are taking place at a time when the South African government sold off one million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines acquired from SII.

Correspondence between the health ministry’s head of procurement at the Central Medical Store (CMS), Fabiola Vahekeni, and SII suggests the ministry is willing to negotiate conditions in order receive a delivery of the vaccines.

In correspondence seen by Namibian Sun, Vijay Patil from SII responded to a request by the CMS about availability of stock, stressing the need for a mutually beneficially deal.

“We wish to inform that we would not be able to submit the offer as we cannot comply with the terms and conditions and we don’t intend to commit clauses stated in the enquiry. We need to discuss how Serum Institute and CMS can work closely to make Covid-19 vaccine available for Namibia, separately to evolve a business model that is in mutual interest (sic).”

Patil also informed Vahekeni that they are under huge pressure due to the commitment to supply vaccines to the Indian government, the Covax facility and other countries with bilateral agreements.

Easy

On 4 February, Seija Nakamhela, a health ministry senior pharmacist, wrote to the Indian vaccine producer asking what process South Africa followed to receive their vaccines, suggesting that Namibia is interested to follow suit.

Patil responded on 5 February explaining that the process is simple. He requested that a proposal be sent without “too many pre-conditions”. The proposal should indicate whether the health ministry wants to purchase vaccines directly or through a local distributor.

Patil underlined that the vaccine business model requires a 100% upfront payment with the purchase order.

He also informed CMS that the institute would not be able to submit an offer, as they could not comply with the proposed or revised conditions.

“Serum does not have a valid manufacturing licence. Serum-manufactured Covid-19 vaccine is not listed on a World Health Organisation emergency use listing. We cannot ensure that the vaccine to be supplied [has] at least 70 to 80% shelf life,” he wrote.

Vahekeni wrote back: “Based on your in-depth discussion with Ms. Nakamhela, chief pharmacist at CMS, we have amended the request to address some of the concerns you had and the clauses that were not feasible to your business model. Please receive a new request.”

The health ministry executive director Ben Nangombe confirmed that talks with the vaccine producer are ongoing.

“I am not at liberty at this stage to disclose to the media more about our negotiations with a particular service provider. It is going to undermine all our efforts engaging with other suppliers. The information you have is confidential and should not be in the public domain,” he said yesterday.

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