India’s vaccine industry needs a level-playing field | Analysis

The lack of restrictions and regulations on the import of vaccines has created many problems. This must be fixed
The Indian vaccine manufacturing industry has brought down the cost of vaccines making it affordable to the citizens of India(AFP)
The Indian vaccine manufacturing industry has brought down the cost of vaccines making it affordable to the citizens of India(AFP)
Updated on Aug 21, 2019 07:33 PM IST
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ByAdar Poonawalla

A strong public health care system is the backbone of a developing country such as India. However, India’s status in the immunisation sector is disheartening. While the country’s total immunisation coverage is at 65%, China’s at 99%. Even though preventive care is one of the primary concerns of India’s public healthcare, it is alarming that the country invests only about 1.02% of its gross domestic product on it. The procurement and provisioning of vaccines, and other preventive medicines, are yet to be covered under public health. This problem must be addressed.

Indian vaccine manufacturers have for long raised concerns about China and Korea’s aggressive strategy to dominate the Indian vaccine industry aided lenient policies. For instance, a foreign manufacturer can enter the Indian market and sell its vaccines without any tough quality check. Indian vaccine manufacturers, however, can only export to other countries such as China only if they enter into a 50-50 partnership with a local manufacturer, and share the technology with them. The lack of restrictions and regulations on the import of vaccines has created a lot of problems. For instance, ineffective rabies vaccine provided by Chinese companies recently led to a major problem in many parts of the country.

By gaining the Indian government’s endorsement of the credibility of domestic vaccines, the accessibility and availability of important vaccines can be addressed. The Indian government must also push foreign manufacturers to invest capital on R&D and share the requisite knowledge to develop new vaccines for the Indian market. This will create a balance between the way Indian and Chinese vaccine manufacturers’ function.

The Indian government must also ensure stricter quality checks on the imported vaccines to ensure substandard vaccines don’t enter the country. The government also needs to build infrastructure (storage facilities and a seamless transportation mechanism), and ensure a steady supply of skilled personnel to improve the reach of immunisation programmes in the country. For instance, researchers have developed thermostable vaccines that can remain potent even in high temperatures and harsh conditions. Investing funds and time to enable more such developments will reduce our accessibility hindrances.

Vaccines are a source of affordable feasible modes of disease prevention. Millions of people slip into poverty due to health catastrophes they cannot afford. The Indian vaccine manufacturing industry has brought down the cost of vaccines making it affordable to the citizens of India. They have made great strides in the technological advancement for vaccine production by adhering to the standards set by the World Health Organization. While the health ministry and our bureaucrats have ensured timely approvals to change the necessary permission processes involved in times of crises, such occasional alterations are not enough to speed up India’s growth and development in public health care. They must reduce the mundane paperwork and digitise the processes to let Indian vaccine manufacturers function in a systematic and more efficient manner.

Adar Poonawalla is CEO, SII and President, Indian Vaccine Manufacturers Association

The views expressed are personal

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Monday, May 23, 2022