Anti-Covid vaccines: why South Africa has to pay more

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South Africa, the continent’s country officially the most affected by the coronavirus, will pay for its first vaccines developed by AstraZeneca almost 2.5 times more expensive than European countries, announced the Ministry of Health. “The price of 5.25 dollars (4.32 euros, editor’s note) is the one that was communicated to us,” the South African ministry told the press on Thursday, January 21. The price of doses is currently a sensitive global issue, with numerous negotiations underway with pharmaceutical companies. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently called on governments to stop bilateral negotiations with laboratories, at the risk of pushing up prices.

Officially, we know that the countries of the European Union (EU) will pay for vaccines developed by the same laboratory only 1.78 euros, according to information disclosed in mid-December by a Belgian minister on Twitter.

Several explanations

How is this price difference explained for South Africa? The 1.5 million vaccines expected in the coming weeks, obtained as part of bilateral negotiations conducted by the government with the AstraZeneca / Oxford alliance, are produced in India by the Serum Institute of India (SII). The continent’s leading industrial power is considered an upper middle-income country. It is with this status that he joined the WHO Covax system for equitable access to vaccines. Then the Deputy Director General of Health in South Africa, Anban Pillay, told the newspaper Business Day that this award is due to the fact that other countries with the same status have contributed much more to research and development. “We were told that other high-income countries benefited from a lower price because they invested in research and development, hence the price reduction. ” About 2,000 South Africans participated in clinical trials of the vaccine in 2020.

For Shabir A. Madhi, professor of vaccinology at the University of the Witwatersrand, the government has “ aggravated the problem by not engaging in time in bilateral agreements directly with manufacturers through an advanced market engagement mechanism, argues this specialist. Many other countries, including middle-income countries, did so as soon as the vaccines entered phases two and three of the trials ”.

Engaged in the global vaccine race, AstraZeneca / Oxford had pledged to sell its doses at cost price, around 2.50 euros, “to be able to provide this vaccine to the wider population”, told AFP the president of AstraZeneca France. This vaccine, which requires two doses, is 70% effective on average, if the results of two different protocols are combined.

On vaccination, the government staggers

As South Africa faces a second deadly wave of the epidemic with nearly 39,000 dead, President Cyril Ramaphosa recently announced that he had obtained 20 million vaccines for the first half of 2021 from several laboratories, without specifying which. The WHO-backed Covax facility is expected to provide injections to 10% of the population between April and June. Further vaccines will be supplied through the African Union and bilateral contracts with suppliers that have not yet been disclosed. His government has been under fire for weeks, especially for having delayed launching a vaccination plan. The Democratic Alliance, the main opposition party, has called for clarification on the matter and several opposition groups are threatening to go to court. “The government’s non-disclosure of information is further proof of why it cannot be trusted with a monopoly on the purchase and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines,” said Afriforum, group of defense of rights in a press release. AstraZeneca’s vaccine is one of the best suited for African health systems, as it does not require storage at ultra-low temperatures like the vaccine from Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech. To date, the country has recorded more than 1.3 million cases and 38,800 deaths, but lScientists are not yet able to confirm the ability of vaccines to combat them.

 

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