Four Union health ministry-funded H1N1 vaccines — three injecting and one nasal pray — will hit the market in June this year, one year after H1N1 was declared a pandemic on June 11. The US and China had H1N1 vaccines ready in September 2009 and started vaccinations within a month.
Since India could not make its own vaccines in time, it had to import vaccines from Sanofi Pastuer, which arrived in February 2010. By then, the worst of the H1N1 — which has infected 31,904 and caused 1,527 deaths in India — was over.
“Flu vaccines have never been manufactured in India, so we had to start from scratch by first building capacity and then developing and testing the vaccine. Now that the capacity-building is done, India can produce flu vaccines within months of a new virus being identified,” said Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad.
The health ministry-funded H1N1 vaccines will hit the market in June and are expected to cost around Rs 180 per dose, a fraction of the Euros 4-8 charged by the four MNCs — Sanofi-Aventis, CSL Ltd, Medimmune and Novartis — manufacturing it.
Three companies — Serum Institute of India, panacea Biotech and Bharat Biotech — were given advance commitments of Rs 10 crore each by the health ministry to help them recover investment in building infrastructure and capacity.
“The price hasn’t been finalised yet but it’s expected to be Rs 180. Under the contract, all three companies have to quote a price, the lowest of which will be chosen,” said Azad.
If the companies want to sell at higher rates, have to back the advance commitment with market interest under an exit clause.
Influenza viruses exist in many permutation and combination and constantly mutate. The viruses in the vaccine change each year based on international surveillance and estimations by public health experts about which types and strains of viruses will circulate that year. Each seasonal influenza vaccine contains three influenza viruses and it takes two weeks after vaccination for a person to develop adequate antibodies to protect against infection.
There’s hope for a next-generation universal flu vaccine that provides some protection against all strains of influenza, shows Italian research published on Tuesday in the open access journal mBio.