The government on Thursday came out with a much-awaited definitive calender for Covid-19 vaccination in the country, which indicated that the availability of the prophylactics for Indians would rise manifold by August, with supplies flowing in from multiple domestic sources and imports. A planned stepping up of production by the two domestic manufacturers – Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech – and start of domestic manufacturing of Russian vaccine Sputnik V by July would ensure that 216 crore doses would available in the country in the August-December 2021 period, VK Paul, member-health at the NITI Aayog, said.
He said the country would liberally and quickly allow imports of any vaccine approved by the WHO or the USFDA, and added that a limited Sputnik V consignment has already arrived and would hit the domestic market ‘next week’. “Vaccines would be available to all as we move forward,” he asserted.
The Centre’s vaccine policy has been flayed by the Opposition parties and even the Supreme Court for its alleged lack of transparency, ‘differential pricing’ and shifting of a par of the burden of purchases and cost to the states. Earlier this week, the Centre defended the policy in the apex court, sating it was not only “just and non-discriminatory” but would enure that all citizens have the option of getting their shots free, uniformity in pricing for the states and that the vaccine manufacturers do not unduly enrich themselves out of public money.
It, however, is reluctant to invoke compulsory licensing provision under the Patents Act to allow more domestic companies to start manufacturing the two vaccines already available in the country – Covaxin and Covishield. It believes that given the financial risk the two extant manufacturers have taken, negotiated pricing would be a prudent approach.
Paul said import licences for WHO/USFDA-approved vaccines were being given ‘within 1-2 days’, adding that no application for licence was pending. He said vaccine from other foreign manufacturers would also become available by the first quarter of 2022 and the country would then have three billion doses.
SII’s production would be 75 crore Covishield doses while Bharat Biotech would make 55 crore doses of Covaxin in the August-December period. Additionally, 15.6 crore doses of Sputnik V vaccine would be available. The SSI-Novavax nasal vaccine production is expected to be around 20 crore doses while Bharat Biotech will roll out 10 crore nasal vaccines.
Other vaccines that are in the process of getting emergency use licences or in final stage of trials are also expected to start production soon. The Bio E sub unit vaccine in Phase III trials stage has been very promising and would start production of 30 crore doses, Paul said. The Zydus Cadila DNA vaccine is also in Phase III trials and would soon apply for emergency licensure will be supplying six crore vaccines. The Gennova mRNA vaccine will be going into licensure and be making six crore vaccines.
The government has been in discussions with global vaccine makers such as Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, and has invited them to manufacture the vaccine here on their own, under joint ventures or through technology transfers, he said. These companies have an open invitation to come to India and the government would offer them all the support, Paul said.
The government and Bharat Biotech was also welcoming more companies to manufacture the Covaxin but the only challenge was not many companies had the Bio Safety Level 3 labs to deal with the live virus for making the vaccine, Paul said.
Till date, 35.6 crore doses of the Covid-19 vaccines have been procured and with some more doses in the pipeline, there would be around 51.6 crore doses available by July 2021, Paul said. During May, 7.30 crore doses will be procured. Going forward, vaccines will be the most important tool against the pandemic and while it will take time, daily vaccination rates will be increased, he said. The country has administered 17.72 crore doses till May 13 with 13.76 crore first dose and 3.96 crore second doses.