Russian Vaccine 3 Times More Expensive in Africa

Africa will be paying more for Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine than it is for Oxford/AstraZeneca, Novavax, and other ‘western’ jabs the African Union is buying, the Financial Times reported Thursday, citing people familiar with the procurement process. 

Sputnik V is priced at $9.75 per dose but recipients require two doses, meaning the cost per individual is just under $20. That’s three times more than what the AU will pay for the Oxford/AstraZeneca and Novavax jabs made by the Serum Institute of India (at $3 a dose) while BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine costs $6.75 a dose. 

Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose product goes for  $10 while Africa isn’t buying from Moderna, which is offering a two-shot inoculation priced at $32 to $37 per dose.

In terms of efficacy, the Russian government claims its vaccine is 92 percent effective in preventing coronavirus disease. A trial of J&J’s jab, which costs nearly half the price of Sputnik V and can be stored in a normal refrigerator, shows it prevented severe or critical disease in 86 percent of U.S. participants and 82 percent in South Africa, where the 501.V2 variant is prevalent. 

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The Astra jab demonstrated effectiveness of about 70 percent in clinical trials, Novavax’s 89 percent in a United Kingdom phase 3 trial while the BioNTech/Pfizer product, which needs to be stored frozen, showed efficacy of 95 percent. 

The AU plans to buy up to 300 million shots of the Russian vaccine, developed by the state-run Gamaleya Institute, with deliveries expected to start by May.

The continental body is emerging as one of the world’s biggest vaccine buyers, making purchases on behalf of member states to supplement supplies from the global vaccine sharing facility, Covax. It has also secured provisional orders for 670 million doses of other jabs, in addition to the Russian product, as it attempts to overcome a pandemic that has infected more than 3.8 million and killed over 102,000 people across the continent.

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Some African countries have also been securing side deals to get early supplies as well as donations. South Africa, which leads the region in the infections tally, ordered 1.5 million doses of the Astra jab from Serum at $5.25 a dose, though it later halted rollout after a study showed the shot might not prevent mild and moderate cases caused by the 501.V2 variant first discovered in the country. 

This week, Ghana received the first AstraZeneca vaccine supplied by Covax arrived in Africa. The World Health Organisation-backed facility had hoped to distribute 15 million doses of vaccine to Africa this month, with a further 40 million in March. It plans to provide doses sufficient to inoculate at least 20 percent of the population of qualifying countries by the end of the year.

African governments can also access a $2 billion in vaccine facility provided by the African Export-Import Bank and funding from the World Bank, while China has supplied few doses to the continent so far. This month, Beijing donated 200,000 doses of its Sinopharm vaccine to Zimbabwe.

Ameenah Hassan is an intern at Arbiterz.

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