Government says private players can buy their own coronavirus vaccines but they must be given for free

Government says private players can buy their own coronavirus vaccines but they must be given for free

Government says private players like companies and medical aid societies are allowed to buy their own coronavirus vaccines but they must do so through the Ministry of Finance and must give them to their workers or members for free.

All vaccines, however, have to be registered.

“We are not going to have people who buy the vaccine as a commercial business entity because we are very clear that CIMAS is going to buy its vaccines but the policy is it will be provided to the CIMAS clients for free,” Deputy Minister of Health John Mangwiro told Parliament.

“So, if the large corporates can buy, it would be good for government and we encourage it. We would love to have many of them buying and help vaccinate their workers and other people.  So, we are not shooting ourselves in the foot because this is for free and the policy is clear to all corporates that the vaccine will be given for free.”

Below is the full Q&A in Parliament:

HON. BITI: Hon. Speaker, my question is directed to the esteemed Minister of Health and Child Care, Hon. Dr. Mangwiro.  In view of the fact that the country  has only imported 200 000 Sinopharm vaccines against a population of around 16 million, would it not be prudent that the Drugs Control Council of Zimbabwe registers other vaccines approved by the WHO, the Russian Sputnik 5, Sinovac, Astrazeneca, Moderna, Johnson and Johnson to allow medical aid societies, pension funds, trade unions, big corporations such as Delta and Econet to also import these registered drugs, with the Ministry playing a regulatory role to ensure that our people are safe?  I think this supplementary private effort will then help the people of Zimbabwe.  I thank you.

THE DEPUTY MINISTER OF HEALTH AND CHILD CARE (HON. DR. MANGWIRO): Thank you Hon. Biti for that pertinent question and suggestion.  I must say the 200 000 vaccine that were delivered from Sinopharm is just the beginning.  We are in the process of bringing more vaccines not only from Sinopharm but we are almost through with registering the Sputnik he is talking about, Sinovac, Indians are also producing their own vaccines.  So there are many vaccines that are being registered and the registration process has been made easy, instead of taking three months or so, it is now taking 2 to 3 days if all documents are there.  Therefore, we have already registered 3 or 4 already.

Secondly, private players like medical aid societies for example CIMAS and other big corporates like Econet have already approached the Ministry with the wish to help out.  As a Ministry, we said they are welcome, they bring in their money, tell us what they want to do and buy through the Government so that all the vaccines that are bought are registered in the country.   So we will only monitor to make sure that the vaccines are registered here and that they are going to be kept safely. We are also going to be inspecting where the vaccines are going to be stored or if they want, they can come and pick their vaccines in drips and drabs tubes and give to their CIMAS members or all those people.

So, in short we have registered plenty of them and we are in the process of having applications from other vaccine producers so that we can register them as well.  If you have any private company that wants to do this, they approach us and we redirect them to the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development who has opened a special account for private people who want to buy these vaccines.  We want to make it easy for all Zimbabweans to get it and we will not deny private players. I thank you.

HON. BITI: I thank the Hon. Minister for his answer but I do not understand the logic of the policy that you want Government to be paid the money to do the importation.  For everything else in this country including drugs, ARV’s etcetera, private companies are bringing in, even food.  The Government should only play a regulatory role to ensure that the drugs that we are brining are registered, safe and are kept in the proper refrigerated conditions.  I thank you.

HON. DR. MANGWIRO:  Yes, it is correct that Government is making sure that things are safe for this new vaccine.  We also want to make sure that Zimbabweans get this vaccine for free no matter the level.  So the private players, if they want to bring in their vaccines, if there is any particular one that they want that is registered here, they are allowed to bring it but make sure that it goes through Government channels that they then distribute it.  If the vaccine is meant for their workers, of course Government workers and nurses will ensure that they monitor and   help them roll out these new vaccines which are coming into the country, no matter which ones but what we are saying is that it is Government that will allow them to buy through Ministry of Finance. How they are going to do it and making sure that they give the people free the vaccine, we definitely will be allowing them to but we monitor how they give that vaccine to make sure that it is safely given and kept and that every Zimbabwean is not then put into a position where they have to buy the vaccine or are unable to access the vaccine. The private players genuinely, many of them who have approached us, we have made it clear to them that if they are buying for their workers or members like CIMAS can buy for its thousands of members via Ministry of Finance coffers, then the vaccine comes CIMAS will have the ability and capacity to then distribute it to their workers as long as we make sure that these things are closely monitored.  We do not want to miss  -any Zimbabwean who wants to be vaccinated should get the chance and we make sure that it remains for free for everyone.

HON. NDEBELE: I wish to seek clarity from the Minister, if everyone has to buy through the Ministry of Health, what is the exact policy that his Ministry pursues in choosing the covid-19 vaccines that are deployed in the country to say covid-19 vaccine X can be deployed here. What is the policy followed. What is the hesitancy around Covax – why is it taking us so long to sign up to this facility that ensures that poor countries get access to covid-19 vaccines cheaply?

THE DEPUTY MINISTER OF HEALTH AND CHILD CARE (HON. DR. MANGWIRO): I will start with the last one about joining the Covax group. We have already signed for that long ago. Covax group includes all vaccines that are manufactured on earth and have been approved by WHO and has gone through the phases 1, 2 and some 3 and have all been registered and certified by WHO that they are safe. The policy is that before we bring in any vaccine into the country, our scientists must be satisfied that the requirements for any safe vaccine to be brought into the country are met. For instance, they must go through the dossiers for the first phase that was done, second phase and we also cross check with other peers in the world and finally we go to WHO to make sure that vaccine is registered. Whatever country that needs to have their vaccine brought here they are allowed to come in and register their vaccines via MCAZ and then the vaccine can be brought into the country. The most important thing is that our scientists and researchers have to be satisfied that this vaccine is going to be safe for the Zimbabwean population and wait for the next for the next deliveries because we are in the process of making sure that at least 10 million will be covered in the shortest time period.

Most of the buying is not done through the Ministry of Health but done by the Ministry of Finance. Those are the ones who are processing the buying, negotiating prices on how much we are going to get the vaccines. In short that is it, our scientists have to be happy. If anyone from the private wants to buy, they go to the Ministry of Finance and not Ministry of Health because even ourselves we buy through the Ministry of Finance. I thank you.

HON KASHIRI: My supplementary question to the Minister is that do we now have oxygen concentrators in all covid centres around the country. Are consumables like testing kits available?

HON. DR. MANGWIRO:  I want to thank the Hon Member for the question. Oxygen supplies in the country are there, we have producers like BOC – the country has oxygen tanks in tonnes in central, provincial and other smaller hospitals and clinics have got oxygen cylinders that are filled up and ready to be used for the patients who need the oxygen. Oxygen concentrators are also a bonus, they have been brought in several hospitals and they are there and individuals also have those. Oxygen concentrators are there and we really encourage those who can afford them or as Government we have definitely oxygen supplies and we have made sure that we explore any other supplies of oxygen that may not be BOC.

Yesterday we were talking to oxygen producers in Kwekwe, the Steelmakers people, the oxygen supplies are quite safe but oxygen concentrators are a bonus. The oxygen that is required for use on a day to day basis has always been there and it is going to be ramped up like we have done and we have made sure supplies are there in oxygen tanks for bigger hospitals.

HON. MARKHAM: In view of the pandemic and the issues we have got, I have been inundated with a number of businesses wanting to privately import. May I humbly suggest to the Minister that a statement or advertisement be placed on how people can import because all those who can afford it, let them take that burden off the state. Let them import and I do not care who it is. If they are going to pay for it, let them do it.

THE HON SPEAKER: Hon Member, there is no room for suggestion. You can ask rhetorical question in future. The suggestion is taken.

HON. T MOYO:  Thank you Hon Speaker Sir.  My supplementary is that if you allow private players like multi-national corporations to import COVID-19 vaccines, are we not shooting ourselves in the foot whereby we pave way to profiteering by the private players?  I thank you.

HON. DR. MANGWIRO:  Thank you Hon. Moyo for the question.  I said it several times that even the corporates, when they bring in their vaccines via Government, we want to make sure they are bringing in registered safe vaccines into the country.  However, private players like Econet are allowed to buy this vaccine for use by its workers for free as is the process and procedure.  We are not going to have people who buy the vaccine as a commercial business entity because we are very clear that CIMAS is going to buy its vaccines but the policy is it will be provided to the CIMAS clients for free.  So, if the large corporates can buy, it would be good for Government and we encourage it. We would love to have many of them buying and help vaccinate their workers and other people.  So, we are not shooting ourselves in the foot because this is for free and the policy is clear to all corporates that the vaccine will be given for free.  I thank you Mr. Speaker Sir.