Cheaper private Covid jabs could be just as expensive as more expensive ones, experts say

Cheaper private Covid jabs could end up being as expensive as their more expensive alternative because the vaccine must be administered in groups of five, experts have warned.

Boots and pharmacies working with company Pharmadoctor are offering Pfizer/BioNTech jabs to those who don’t qualify for a free vaccination through the NHS, with the former charging almost £100 per shot. The latter is also offering the latest Novavax jab, a protein-based vaccine, at a price of around £50.

While experts have welcomed access to the jabs, they have also warned the high cost could widen inequality.

Concerns have been raised about the use of the Novavax jab as each vial of the vaccine contains enough for five doses, which – once opened – must be used within 12 hours if stored in the refrigerator. and preferably immediately.

Nathan Burley, a public health pharmacist and chairman of the Guild of Healthcare Pharmacists, said that while multi-dose vaccine vials were used for Covid-19 vaccines during the pandemic to maximize the doses available for a rapid mass rollout, they were pharmaceutical problems are involved. , including logistical problems.

“If patient scheduling is lax or patients are not present, doses can be wasted,” he said.

Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist at the University of Warwick, said the Novavax jab was as effective at protecting against severe disease as the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna jabs, and was also cheaper and easier to store .

He said there is some evidence that protein-based jabs have fewer side effects, while other research has shown that a ‘mix and match’ approach with different vaccines resulted in a better immune response.

He also emphasized that once a Novavax vial was opened, five doses had to be administered.

“This may not be cost-effective for pharmacies and could lead to wasted vaccine if fewer than five people are registered for vaccination,” Young said. “It could also lead to pharmacies increasing the cost of the Novavax vaccine to compensate for any waste.”

The Guardian has seen reports suggesting that some pharmacies are already taking a flexible charging approach.

One pharmacy sent an email to customers saying Novavax jabs would be reserved for patients with multiple bookings involving friends or family. If just two people were to receive Novavax jabs on the same day, the price would be £90 per person.

“For three people the charge is £65 per person, for four people it is £55 per person and for five people there is a flat rate charge of £50 per person,” the email said.

Lara Wong, the founder of the support and advocacy group Clinically vulnerable familiessaid the approach was problematic.

“Coordinating group vaccinations to fully utilize each multi-dose vial poses a significant challenge, especially for patients who cannot easily organize themselves into groups due to health concerns or logistical constraints. This could lead to higher individual costs for those who cannot form groups. We are deeply concerned that this situation will create barriers to vaccination,” she said.

Pharmadoctor CEO Graham Thoms said each of its partner pharmacies set its own prices, adding that Pharmadoctor did not charge a fee and received no discount from the pharmacy.

Thoms said strategies were in place to prevent waste. He said: “Some of our individual partner pharmacists have already received more than 160 patient appointment requests from Pharmadoctor for April, so they will simply have to arrange the appointments in blocks of five patients so that there is no waste. Most of our partner pharmacies are already working on this.”