Chughtai Lab announced last week that it aims to secure Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine and start offering consumers access to the vaccine as an alternative to the public sector, which is prioritising frontline health workers and senior citizens. 

Sputnik V’s developers have said the two-dose vaccine would be sold at $10 (Rs. 1,593) per dose, which puts the total price of inoculation at around Rs. 3000.

However, its price might be higher in Pakistan.

No upper caps, no competition

Pakistan had allowed private companies to import COVID-19 vaccines and had agreed to exempt private companies from price caps, allowing the private sector to circumvent the usual practice in regards to pharmaceutical products. 

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on National Health Services Dr Faisal Sultan said that Pakistan still planned to inoculate its population for free and only a “small minority” who wish to pay for the shots will have that option in the open market.

“Only those who wish to get it via private sector will pay anything,” he said. “Personally, my assessment is that when the vaccines are available and we have market competition, that will automatically set the prices.

Given that currently, only one Pakistani company is bringing in a few thousand doses from a specific manufacurer, competition is non-exisitent. Coupled with the lack of a mass public sector inoculation programme, as the government is proritising health workers and citizens above the age of 65, upper-middle-class consumers are likely to want quick access to the vaccine. Furthermore, since the vaccine is also an essential good in times of a global pandemic, prices are unlikely to decrease. The private sector is unlikely to reduce the price when it knows that the consumer is willing to pay for the vaccine because there exists an urgent need. 

Many in Pakistan are concerned that the price of the private-sector vaccine will be exorbitantly high, and as such would only be available to the wealthy citizens of the country. Former Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on health Dr Zafar Mirza echoed these apprehensions by saying allowing no price caps  “will deepen inequality in society at a time when there is a need to have widespread coverage”.

Chughtai Labs has declined to specify the import costs or the price of the vaccine but have also confirmed that the price would “appear inflated” compared to what has charged for Sputnik V vaccine globally.

Likely prices of vaccines available in Pakistan

In an exclusive interview with The Correspondent, Professor Hasan Abbas Zaheer, the primary coordinator of the AJM Pharma and CanSinoBIO vaccine trials that were conducted in Pakistan said that the CanSino Bio vaccine will be cheap, giving the tentative price of Rs. 650-800 per dose.

“Every country has a different policy, but if you keep in mind the government has fixed the cost of one diagnostic COVID-19 test at Rs 6,500 per test per person, the cost of the vaccine will be much lower than that—maybe 10% or 15% of that cost. The vaccine is very cheap compared to the test,” Professor Zaheer said. 

On the other hand, the government’s expense at importing the Oxford-AstraZeneca’s vaccine was estimated at around $6-7. This would be the base buying cost for the private sector, upon which it would add service charges, import costs, and profit margin, raising the price further. 

“Since the government has allowed it [the Oxford-AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine] and given us the nod to import the consignments, we have estimated that it would be available to the government for something between US$6 and US$7,” said Usman Ghani of the Sindh Medical Stores, told local media. Sindh Medical Stores is one of the biggest importers of vaccines and other pharmaceutical products in Pakistan.

Prices of most of the vaccines on the market range from Rs. 700 (CanSinoBIO) to Rs. 1,600 (Oxford-AstraZeneca single dose, inoculation would require two doses).

Currently, it is difficult to predict the open market prices, but one thing can be said with this information; the prices for the vaccine are unlikely to be regulated by market forces and is more likely to remain high.

Global vaccine prices

Pfizer, CEO assured consumers that its vaccine will be free for all U.S. citizens, referring to the first 100 million doses pre-ordered by the U.S. government under Operation Warp Speed. However, the government will pay for the vaccine and the negotiated wholesale price in the contract $20 per dose – with two doses needed for inculcation.

It is unclear how much the vaccine will cost when it enters the open market.

Assuming Pfizer vaccines are sold at a wholesale price to the general public, the cost of inculcation comes to around $40 (Rs. 6,365)

Similarly, Moderna, which has developed a competing mRNA vaccine, has signed a contract with the US government to supply the vaccine at $25 a dose – with two doses needed for inculcation. The price is expected to be higher for retail customers and in its most recent quarterly earnings, Moderna said the vaccine will be sold for $32 to $37 per dose for some customers.

Cost of inculcation for the Moderna vaccine comes to around $74 (Rs. 11,776)

The author works as a sub-editor at The Correspondent, focusing on Student Politics, Social issues and International Relations.

The author is the Editor of The Correspondent.

He can be reached at sarmadiqbal@thecorrespondent.com.pk

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