COVID Vaccination in India- Developments and Controversies
New Delhi: Engulfed by a calamitous coronavirus wave, the Government rolled out anti-COVID vaccines for the immunization programme against the deadly virus. However, with COVID wreaking havoc the demand for vaccines surged and so did the prices of the jabs sparking debates.
The Drug Controller General of India (DCGI), the country's national drug regulator, approved two coronavirus vaccines for restricted emergency use — Serum Institute of India's Covishield (the Indian variant of the AZD1222 vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca) and Bharat Biotech's Covaxin.
Besides, the DCGI also gave the green signal to Cadila Healthcare Ltd to conduct Phase 3 clinical trials of its ZyCoV-D vaccine candidate for Covid-19. The Pfizer vaccine and Russia's Sputnik-V are likely to be approved for use in India.
Coming to the price, Serum Institute has said it would price the vaccine at 440 rupees (about $3) for the government and around Rs 700-800 for the private market while While there has been no talk on the price of Covaxin, reports have said Bharat Biotech will price the vaccine at Rs 350. The firm has already signed a letter of intent (LoI) with Ocugen to co-develop Covaxin for the US market, reports The Indian Express.
For the first step of the vaccination campaign, which included healthcare and frontline staff, the government had purchased Covishield from the SII at a cost of Rs 200 per dose and Covaxin from Bharat Biotech at a cost of Rs 295 per dose.
In February, the government set a price limit of Rs 250 per dose for Covid vaccines in private hospitals, which includes a vaccine fee of Rs 150 and a service charge of Rs 100.
Regarding this, vaccine manufacturers expressed their displeasure with the government's decision to cap vaccine costs in private hospitals at Rs 250.
Biocon Chairperson Kiran Mazumdar Shaw had previously spoken out against the government capping Covid-19 vaccine prices at Rs 250 in private hospitals, saying vaccine firms "feel betrayed" because the price is too low to sustain.
According to the latest policy, the government said that state governments and private hospitals can now purchase vaccine doses directly from suppliers, which are able to sell 50 per cent of the doses to states and on the open market.
The government announced that beginning May 1, all citizens above the age of 18 would be able to get vaccinated to combat the virulent second wave of COVID-19 infections.
Furthermore, under the National Vaccination Strategy's 'Phase-3, 'vaccine manufacturers will be able to sell half of their vaccines to state governments and the open market. The remainder would have to be sold to the government.
Apart from that, producers will have to make an advance declaration of the price for a 50 percent supply that will apply to state governments and the open market before May 1, reports The Hindu.
Medical Dialogues team had reported earlier that the CEO of the Serum Institute of India revealed that the Covishield vaccine will cost private hospitals Rs 600 per dose and state governments Rs 400, a rate that will also apply to the central government procurement once the current contract for Rs 150 per dose expires.
The pricing, however, came in for sharp criticism from opposition parties who saw no logic in charging state governments higher rates when the Centre was getting the same vaccine at Rs 150 per dose.
Responding to the raised criticism SII CEO Adar Poonawalla later told CNBC-TV18 that the central government too will be charged Rs 400 once the initial contract for 100 million doses ends.
He further added that the previous pricing was given without even knowing if the vaccine would work and it was a "risk-sharing price" that was agreed for a limited number of quantities. The firm has announced these prices in accordance with the government's new policy as the vaccine has been licensed and is demonstrating good efficacy.
According to IANS, Poonawalla responded to the criticism by saying in a statement that, "The price of the vaccine is still lower than a lot of other medical treatment and essentials required to treat Covid-19 and other life-threatening diseases,".
Following SII, Bharat Biotech's chairman and managing director Krishna M Ella has rolled out an announcement fixing the price of COVAXIN at Rs 600 per dose for state governments, at Rs 1200 per dose for private hospitals, and the export price would be between USD 15 and USD 20.
Further, it added, "Bharat Biotech is honoured to develop, manufacture and supply Covaxin for India's vaccine rollout at rs 150 per dose, which is distributed for free by the Government of India. We would like to state that more than 50% of our capacities have been reserved for central government supplies."
The announcement also included, "COVAXIN 'is an inactivated and highly purified vaccine, making manufacturing expensive due to very low process yields. All costs towards product development, manufacturing facilities and clinical trials were deployed primarily using internal funding and resources of Bharat Biotech. "
"Recovering costs is essential in the journey of innovation towards other vaccines such as Intranasal COVID-19, Chikungunya, Zika, Cholera, and others. Our core mission for the last 25 years has been to provide affordable, yet world-class healthcare solutions for the globe. "he added.
It could be concluded that the price fixed by Bharat Biotech is higher than the price of Covishield in V from Russia to India, said that the drug is selling for $10 per dose or more around the globe. In terms of India, the company is negotiating the price of the imported vaccine. They will provide an update as soon as new information becomes available.
As per the Business Standard report, Dr Reddy's Laboratories, which is shipping Sputnik V from Russia to India, said that the drug is selling for USD 10 per dose or more around the globe. In terms of India, the company is negotiating the price of the imported vaccine. They will provide an update as soon as new information becomes available.
Meanwhile, state governments have announced to provide the vaccine against COVID-19 free of cost for everyone in at least 23 states, including Haryana, Maharashtra, Jammu-Kashmir, Rajasthan, Telangana, Sikkim, Bihar, Kerala, UP, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Goa, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh.
Others have clarified it will be free for people between the age of 18-45 only. However, the central government's drive for free vaccinations for those above 45 will continue, reports India Today.