South Africa will have to buy doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine at a price nearly three times higher than most European countries, the country’s health ministry has said.
The African continent’s worst virus-hit country has ordered at least 1.5m shots of the vaccine from the Serum Institute of India (SII), expected in January and February.
A senior health official on Thursday told AFP those doses would cost $5.25 (€4.32) each – nearly two and a half times the amount paid by most European countries.
European Union members will pay €1.78 ($2.16) for AstraZeneca’s shots, according to information leaked by a Belgian minister on Twitter.
AstraZeneca France told AFP in November that its shots would be capped at €2.50 (around $3) per dose “to provide vaccines to the widest population, with as fair access as possible”.
It did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the health ministry’s price quote.
To date South Africa has recorded more than 1.3 million cases of coronavirus and 38,800 deaths.
South Africa’s deputy director general of health Anban Pillay said via text message: “The National Department of Health confirms that the price $5.25 is what was quoted to us.”
Pillay told the local Business Day newspaper the higher price was because other countries contributed to research and development.
“The explanation we were given for why other high-income countries have a lower price is that they have invested in the [research and development], hence the discount on the price,” Pillay said.
Around 2,000 South Africans participated in clinical trials for the vaccine in 2020.
Bilateral deals between wealthier governments and coronavirus vaccine manufacturers have raised concern over price rises and lack of supply for low- and middle-income countries.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned against “vaccine nationalism” and “price gouging”.
South Africa’s AstraZeneca vaccine order is part of 20m secured doses to be delivered in the first half of 2021.
The WHO-backed Covax facility is expected to provide shots for 10% of the population between April and June.
Other vaccines will be provided via the African Union and bilateral contracts with suppliers that have not yet been disclosed.
The SII was also set to supply 100m doses of the vaccine to the African Union for $3 each, Reuters reported.
Opposition groups have criticised South Africa’s inoculation strategy. “Reports today indicate that … government will have to spend double what some other countries are paying for their vaccines,” the main opposition Democratic Alliance party said, blaming poor planning and delayed negotiations.
The trade union Solidarity and the prominent rights group Afriforum jointly announced plans to launch a legal battle against the government over lack of transparency. “The government’s non-disclosure of information is further proof why it cannot be trusted with a monopoly regarding the purchasing and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines,” Afriforum said.
South Africa is battling with a second wave of infections fuelled by a new coronavirus variant deemed more infectious by scientists.
The government aims to vaccinate two-thirds of its population – around 40 million out of nearly 60 million people – to achieve herd immunity by the end of 2021.