By Frank Kamuntu
Kampala: Responding to a swell of global criticism, a senior Ministry Of Health official has revealed that Uganda’s government is not paying unreasonably higher prices for it’s AstraZeneca vaccines as rumoured, but the prices vary in comparison to other African countries.
“You cannot compare prices directly between countries because there are many factors to consider. Prices have to vary anyway,” said Alfred Driwale the manager of the Uganda National Expanded Programme on Immunization (UNEPI) at the Ministry of Health, in an exclusive interview.
News that Uganda will be paying USD $7 per dose for its 18 million dose order of the Astra Zeneca vaccine – a price that is 20% more than South Africa and roughly triple that being paid by the European Union – sparked anger and outrage around global medicines access advocates – and on social media channels.
“This is unjust & unfair. Bilateral deals between wealthier countries & companies mean low-income countries like Uganda get a raw deal with price hikes.” protested one Ugandan human rights advocate on social media.
This is unjust & unfair. Bilateral deals between wealthier countries& companies means low income countries like Uganda get a raw deal with price hikes. Need #PeoplesVaccine These vaccines funded by govts. That said @GovUganda what other candidates did you consider& at what cost?
— Allana Kembabazi (@Kemba_A) February 2, 2021
The two-dose vaccine, together with shipping and handling costs, would bring the total cost of each immunization regime to USD $17, government officials said.
But Driwale says that the prices countries may quote, per vaccine, vary because there are many factors to consider including overhead costs, the timing of orders; transport costs; the amounts of cash down payments or deposits, as well as economies of scale etc.
“You can not expect a country with a big population to pay the same price, the big country will definitely have a higher bargaining power,” says Driwale while comparing the prices a country like Uganda and Nigeria may pay for the vaccine.
Uganda has some 48 million people while South Africa has nearly 60 million.
Driwale who did not want to comment on whether this sets a precedent for what Uganda might pay in the event it procures other types of vaccines saying “it is still too early to have that conversation now.”
Efficacy of COVID vaccines to prevent transmission has been a hotly debated topic – with huge policy implications. The new paper, which examined weekly swab tests that had been administered to a group of 17,177 AstraZeneca clinical trial participants in Brazil, the United Kingdom and South Africa, found a 67% reduction in positive coronavirus swab tests, among those vaccinated as compared to those who were not.
British Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, welcomed the results on Wednesday as “absolutely superb.”
The total worldwide distribution of the vaccine would include about 336 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and another 1.2 million doses of a promised 40 million vaccine doses from Pfizer – reflecting what COVAX will be able to roll out immediately, said GAVI CEO Seth Berkley, speaking at a press briefing yesterday in Geneva.
At the briefing, Berkley and other officials said that they still expected COVAX to deliver as many as 2.3 million doses in 2021 including “as many as ~1.8 billion doses” to the 92 countries that receive donor-supported vaccine aid – providing them with about 27% coverage with COVID vaccines.
But Uganda, whose economy has suffered heavily from the impacts of COVID-related lockdowns – despite comparatively low infection rates – clearly wants to ensure a higher level of coverage as quickly as possible.