Health makes U-turn on vaccine middlemen

23 March 2021 | Health

JEMIMA BEUKES



WINDHOEK

The health ministry has cancelled a Covid-19 vaccine tender and has returned bids amid outcry over the involvement of middlemen.

To date, Namibia has not been able to secure a single Covid-19 vaccine dose through its procurement processes.

The ministry’s executive director Ben Nangombe said they have now reached out directly to manufacturers like the Serum Institute of India and others in Russia and the United States.

Nangombe pointed out that there is no guarantee that middlemen won’t be involved, but added that the ministry's priority is to work directly with vaccine manufacturers.

“Some manufacturers do not sell their products, they have agents. I don't know if you can call an agent a middleman. The whole rationale of these cancelled bids was because we have seen delays such as Covax and we wanted to test markets and see if there were others who have access to the markets with their marketing channels,” Nangombe said.

Won’t accept ‘ridiculous’ prices

He added that the ministry is aware of the benchmark pricing of vaccines and won’t accept “ridiculous” prices from an agent or middlemen.

Nangombe also said the health ministry’s attempts to secure vaccines directly from manufacturers since December have proved futile.

“The vaccines that you see in the country are by donation, so now you tell me, if I have been engaging with manufacturers and nothing is coming forth, should I not be following a track to see if that cannot yield the fruit I want? Because if I just wait on manufacturers to deliver - which they have not - that would mean Namibians are not going to get the vaccine and people are going to ask questions.”

One of the donated vaccines currently administered in the country is the Sinopharm vaccine donated by the Chinese government.

The arrival of this vaccine - which has not yet been approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO) - has upset various sectors in the country.

As a result, both the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and the local WHO office were absent from the launch of the ministry’s national vaccination programme on Friday.

Health minister Dr Kalumbi Shangula pled ignorance of the concerns raised when asked about the absence of the WHO and the CDC.

“I am not aware. You are giving us news today,” he said when asked why the organisations were not present.

CDC country director Dr Eric Dzubain said they are committed to international partnerships that will provide global access to safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines as quickly as possible.

“We can provide technical support to countries only when the vaccines they deploy have been pre-qualified or received an emergency use listing by the WHO or a robust national regulatory authority,” he added.

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