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Privately imported Covid vaccines await price cap from government

By Javed Mirza
March 19, 2021

KARACHI: The government is yet to put a price cap on COVID vaccines with the first shipment of privately imported Russian Sputnik-V shots having already arrived, it was learnt on Thursday.

Sputnik-V vaccine imported in Pakistan by AGP Pharma at a cost price of $22.5/dose will be distributed to vaccination centres in a week after its price is determined by the Drug Regulatory Authority (DRAP), sources said.

The consignment comprising 50,000 doses was pre-processed being perishable goods and were removed to the storage facility after arrival in the country. Now the regulatory authority would issue no-objection certificate and ruling for the marketing of the vaccine, after which it would be distributed to the private centers. The process would take around a week, sources said.

AGP Pharma could not be contacted despite repeated attempts. However, Customs authorities said around 150,000 more doses of the vaccine were expected to reach Pakistan in a week.

The DRAP approved the Russian vaccine for COVID-19 for emergency use in February. The Russian vaccine has a success ratio of 91.6 percent and made in Russia in collaboration with the government by Moscow’s Gamaleya Research Institute.

Sputnik-V is one of four vaccines approved for emergency use in Pakistan, in addition to those by China’s Sinopharm and CanSinoBio and the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot.

This vaccine will be administered through hospitals and institutions that are authorised by the government as COVID-19 vaccination centres.

Earlier, the government allowed the private sector to import and sell the Covid-19 vaccine on the price of their choice but recently, the federal government revoked its earlier policy and decided to fix the price itself. Now, the pricing board of the DRAP would fix the price and send it to the cabinet for approval and after approval, the private firm could sell the products locally.

“There is a formula, already in vogue, to determine maximum price,” Health Minister Faisal Sultan told Reuters. “So yes, there is a price cap that DRAP will recommend and get approval for.”

An official with AGP Ltd said a first shipment of 50,000 doses arrived on Wednesday night and that it will be made available to the public as soon as the government agreed on a price.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t officially authorised to release the information.

Russian Direct Investment Fund , responsible for marketing the Sputnik-V vaccine abroad, confirmed to Reuters that a batch had been delivered to Pakistan.

The decision to allow commercial imports of vaccines with an exemption on upper price caps had sparked criticism that it would be unfair.

China’s Sinopharm and CansinoBio, Sputnik-V and AstraZeneca vaccines are approved for emergency use in Pakistan, which hasn’t secured any vaccine from manufacturing companies, relying so far on donations.

The country is vaccinating frontline health workers and older population with over one million doses of Sinopharm donated by longtime ally China.

Pakistan, with a population of 220 million and largely reliant on the COVAX vaccine sharing initiative for poorer nations, last month allowed private firms to import coronavirus vaccines and agreed to exempt them from price caps. Pakistan is seeing a sharp increase in COVID cases. It has recorded 615,810 coronavirus infections and 13,717 deaths, with 3,495 cases and 61 deaths reported in the last 24 hours.