An association of Pakistani-American physicians have written a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan expressing concern over the high prices set for COVID-19 vaccines in Pakistan according to the pricing formula approved by Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP).
The group of doctors, who belong to the Association of Physicians of Pakistani-descent of North America (APPNA), said that the profit margin allowed to importers and retailers for a life-saving drug such as this is unjustified.
The doctors in their letter noted that under DRAP's formula, the price for two doses of the Sputnik-V vaccine has been fixed at Rs8,449 and that for a single dose of the Cansino Biologics vaccine at Rs4,225.
The letter stated: "According to press reports, [DRAP] has approved a pricing formula allowing 40% mark-up (profit) for importers of the vaccines plus an additional 15% mark-up for retailers."
This comes to a 55% profit margin, which they said "cannot be justified by any means" for essentially a life-saving treatment in a poor country.
The association said that it is worried that in Pakistan, where 30-40% people live below the poverty line, "this price gouging and inflated prices" will make the vaccines beyond the reach of a very large portion of the population.
APPNA, therefore, stressed that the vaccine, which is thus far seen as "the only hope" to control the pandemic, must not be left unaffordable to millions. It said the results of such a move will be "catastrophic".
"A human tragedy must not be allowed to be used for profiteering," the association pleaded in the letter.
It appealed to PM Imran Khan to "urgently review the situation" himself.
The association recommended that the government should undertake the task of importing the vaccine itself, "on an emergent basis" as it is "best positioned to negotiate favourable rates with manufacturers".
The group of doctors noted that although ideally the vaccine should be available to all free of cost, but if the country's financial situation does not allow it, it should be sold "at no more than cost".
It also urged for subsidies to be provided to the poor regardless.
The physicians noted that the Centre as well as provincial governments "have huge human resources available" in their respective health departments. They have stressed on the need for these resources to be utilised for the delivery and administration of vaccines to the public, while also suggesting making use of medical student volunteers for the activity.
"APPNA also takes the opportunity to appeal to you to make live telecast of the meetings of regulatory authorities such as DRAP mandatory for the sake of transparency," they further suggested.
The association, in the end, reminded the premier that it stands ready to help Pakistan "in any way it can".
"We remain at your call," the doctors wrote.