Newswire: COVID-19 vaccines finally arrive in Africa, but at what price

Health Ministry at Dakar, Senegal with vaccine

Mar. 1, 2021 (GIN) – Long-awaited deliveries of the Covid-19 vaccine are finally reaching the shores of Africa, bringing relief to a continent that appeared abandoned by the giant pharma companies and the rich nations that snapped up early supplies.  Ghana, with a population of over 30 million, just received 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through the World Health Organization’s vaccine-sharing initiative known as Covax. The Covax project purchases vaccines with the help of wealthier countries and distributes them equitably to all countries. President Joe Biden pledged $4 billion to the Covax program last week. But what an African country will end up paying for the vaccine outside of Covax is “meant for confidential discussion,” Afreximbank told Reuters. The AU also declined to comment.  Now, a document provided to Reuters by two sources provides the first glimpse at the prices that manufacturers are offering African nations outside of the COVAX global vaccine sharing scheme.  Pfizer will provide 50 million doses of its two-shot vaccine at $6.75 each (or $650 million), the document showed. J&J will provide 120 million doses of its single-shot vaccine at $10 each ($1.2 billion). Population size will determine how much of each vaccine various African countries will be offered.  Nigeria, the continent’s most populous nation, stands to pay roughly $283 million if it takes its full allocation of 42 million doses. Cash-strapped copper producer Zambia would have to find $25 million for its allocation of less than 4 million doses, according to the document.  While little controversy has been raised over western prices, a bellow of outrage appeared on the front page of the British Financial Times, attacking the “African price for the Russia vaccine” as being triple the cost of rivals – and accusing Moscow with offering unaffordable jabs to countries priced out of deals with western drug sellers. Western drug prices for Africa may be heavily discounted compared to what wealthier nations are paying, but some experts worry about countries already struggling to manage the economic fallout of the pandemic having to borrow more money to protect their people. “No country should have to take on debt to pay for the vaccine,” said Tim Jones, head of policy at the Jubilee Debt Campaign, a British charity working to end poverty.   Professor Joseph Benie, head of the National Institute of Public Hygiene in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, defended their choice of the Russian Sputnik – also the pick of Zimbabwe, the Central African Republic and Guinea. “We’re not in a position where we can say no to any vaccine. We’ve opted for the Pfizer vaccine, but we’re looking at other vaccines as well,” Benie said. “There’s an urgency now to start inoculating.”   

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