South Africa will pay $5.25 for each dose of Oxford-AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine, whereas European Union members will pay just $2.16 for it.

Doses of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Oxford University and UK-based drugmaker AstraZeneca.
Doses of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Oxford University and UK-based drugmaker AstraZeneca. (AP)

South Africa will buy doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine at a price 2.5 times higher than most European countries.

The continent's worst virus-hit country has ordered at least 1.5 million shots of the vaccine from the Serum Institute of India, expected in January and February.

A senior health official on Thursday said those doses would cost $5.25 each, nearly 2.5 times the amount paid by most European countries.

"The National Department of Health confirms that the price $5.25 is what was quoted to us," deputy director-general of health Anban Pillay said via text message, without explaining the price difference.

European Union members countries will pay just $2.16 for Oxford-AstraZeneca's shots, according to information leaked by a Belgian minister on Twitter last month.

Bilateral deals between wealthier governments and coronavirus vaccine manufacturers have raised concern over price hikes and lack of supply for low- and middle-income countries.

READ MORE: Poor countries might not have access to a Covid-19 vaccine until 2022

'It's definitely unjust and unfair'

Pillay said that the 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 $3.03 per dose European Union countries have agreed to pay.

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."

READ MORE: EU sets Pfizer vaccine price at $18.90 per dose

'Vaccine nationalism'

The World Health Organization last year warned against "vaccine nationalism" and "price gouging" once a successful shot was found.

AstraZeneca France said in November that its shots would be capped at around $3 per dose "to provide vaccines to the widest population, with as fair access as possible."   

The pharmaceutical giant did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the Health Ministry's price quote.

South Africa's AstraZeneca vaccine order is part of 20 million secured doses to be delivered in the first half of 2021.    

The WHO-backed Covax facility is expected to provide shots for 10 percent 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. 

A legal battle

Opposition groups have meanwhile 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 on Thursday, blaming poor planning and delayed negotiations.

Trade union Solidarity and 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 in a statement on Thursday.

South Africa is battling with a second wave of infections fuelled by a new coronavirus variant deemed more infectious by scientists.

To date the country has recorded over 1.3 million cases and 38,800 deaths.

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. 

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies