JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa will pay $5.25 per dose for 1.5 million shots of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine from the Serum Institute of India (SII), a senior official said on Thursday, more than some wealthier countries are paying.
Health department Deputy Director-General Anban Pillay told Reuters that SII’s price was based on South Africa’s status as an upper-middle-income country under a World Bank classification.
The price is higher than the $3 a dose that South Africa and other countries on the continent are due to pay for the same vaccine under an African Union (AU) arrangement, and the 2.5 euros ($3.03) per dose European Union countries have agreed to pay.
South Africa is hosting clinical trials of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca in partnership with Oxford University, raising questions about the higher price it will be paying. Its public finances were already under huge strain before the pandemic and have deteriorated sharply since it recorded its first COVID-19 case in March 2020.
SII, a major manufacturer of the AstraZeneca vaccine, declined to comment when contacted by Reuters.
AstraZeneca said it could not confirm pricing details and declined to comment further.
The London-listed pharmaceutical company has said it will not profit from the vaccine during the pandemic, but a report in the Financial Times in October said the firm can declare when it considers the pandemic to have ended in its deals.
Fatima Hassan, head of the Health Justice Initiative, a South African organisation focused on health rights and inequality, said there needed to be more transparency about the terms of AstraZeneca’s agreement with SII.
“It’s definitely unjust and unfair,” she said, referring to the price of $5.25 a dose. “South Africa can’t regulate its own prices because it is desperate to save lives and there is huge pressure from the public to secure doses.”
The SII doses are intended for South Africa’s frontline healthcare workers, who have been stretched during a second wave of infections driven by a more infectious virus variant called 501Y.V2.
They are due to start arriving before the end of the month, before the AU doses, which become available from March, and shots secured via the COVAX Facility, a global distribution scheme co-led by the World Health Organization.
Pillay said developed countries that secured a lower price per shot from SII had done so because they contributed towards research and development costs of the AstraZeneca vaccine, confirming a report in the Business Day newspaper.
He added that South Africa would try to negotiate a lower price if it procured more doses from SII but that it had been told $5.25 a dose was the standard global price for upper-middle-income countries.
The health department announced the SII deal this month after being criticised by local scientists and trade unions for moving too slowly to acquire vaccines.
South Africa has recorded the most COVID-19 infections and deaths on the continent, with more than 1.3 million cases and over 38,000 deaths to date.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine is one of the best suited to African health systems as it does not require storage at ultra-low temperatures like the vaccine from Pfizer and German partner BioNTech.
($1 = 0.8241 euros)
(Additional reporting by Emma Rumney in Johannesburg and Ludwig Burger in Frankfurt; Editing by Stephen Coates, Jane Merriman and Kirsten Donovan)