South Africa’s health department confirmed on Friday that the country is paying 2.5 times more than European countries for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
The country is expecting the first set of vaccine doses in late January and February from the Serum Institute of India.
A senior health official told AFP that South Africa would be dishing out $5.25 (about R80) per dose, which is more than double what European Union members are set to pay. According to leaked information by Belgium’s budget state secretary on Twitter, members of the European Union are expecting to pay $2.16 (about R33) for the same vaccine.
This pricing difference contradicts a previous statement from AstraZeneca France where the pharmaceutical company stated plans to cap the price of the vaccine at around $3 (about R45) in order to “to provide vaccines to the widest population, with as fair access as possible”.
Anban Pillay, South Africa’s deputy director general of health confirmed the quote of $5.25 and told Business Day that other countries had contributed to research and development and this has impacted the price of the vaccine for the country.
“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,” he said.
Although AstraZeneca has yet to respond, the Guardian reported that an estimated 2,000 South Africans participated in clinical trials for the vaccine last year.
The price difference between the EU and South Africa has the potential to deepen the effects of vaccine nationalism, where wealthier countries have been buying up more than enough vaccines to inoculate their populations — several times over in some cases — leaving middle- and lower-income countries struggling to access the vaccine.
The World Health Organisation warned against vaccine nationalism earlier this month, with the WHO chief, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, saying that “the world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure.”
“Not only does this me-first approach leave the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people at risk, it’s also self-defeating,” he continued.
He called on wealthier countries to prioritise their contributions to the COVAX Facility and to donate excess doses to COVAX once they have vaccinated their essential workers and the elderly.
The only high-income country to have announced donations of vaccines so far is Norway, whose Minister of International Development, Dag Inge Ulstein, announced last week that the country will be donating excess vaccines to COVAX.
“We cannot wait until every citizen in rich countries is vaccinated before we start vaccinating people in the low-income countries,” he said.
To date, South Africa has recorded 1.4 million coronavirus cases and over 40,000 deaths. The country has the highest cases of COVID-19 on the African continent and is dealing with a second wave of infections driven by a new, more infectious variant.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is part of the 20 million vaccines that the country has secured that are expected to be delivered in the first half of 2021.
South Africa will also receive vaccines from an independent contract from Johnson & Johnson, the COVAX Facility, and the African Union’s vaccine acquisition efforts.