States may have to directly purchase doses for phase 3 drive
State governments will have to directly procure coronavirus vaccines from domestic or foreign manufacturers to give doses to people in the 18-44 age group when they become eligible from May 1, senior officials aware of the matter said, while adding that the centre will not get into procurements, including imports, beyond their 50% quota.
Even though both the Indian vaccine manufacturers that have been granted emergency use authorisation – Bharat Biotech and Serum Institute of India -- have declared the price at which they will sell their vaccines to states, state governments are free to further negotiate and explore procurement options for foreign made vaccines, these people said.
The foreign manufacturers in the fray are Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson, with Johnson & Johnson having already applied to DCGI for bridging studies in India for its Covid-19 vaccine.
“The cost of vaccination depends entirely on the rate at which the state government procures the vaccines. We have been given to understand that some state governments have already begun negotiations with vaccine manufacturers. The same logic applies for cost of vaccination at central government run hospitals; once state governments procure, they can provide such doses for vaccination to their hospitals or, and, to central government hospitals,” said a senior health ministry official aware of the matter, who did not want to be identified.
Another official said, on condition of anonymity, “The states are free to go for foreign made vaccines also provided the vaccine is imported as per the government of India guidelines. Usually, a foreign made vaccine is imported through their local distributers. Foreign manufacturers get in to local tie-ups.”
Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, for example, has a tie-up with the Russian Direct Investment Fund for importing and distributing the Russia-made Sputnik V vaccine. Sputnik V is the first foreign made vaccine that has been granted emergency use authorisation by the Drugs Controller General of India, Dr VG Somani.
If states are able to better negotiate the price, in effect, it would mean the cost of vaccination for people in the 18-44 age group could come down further. Some states have already announced that they will be providing the vaccine for free. The cost for vaccinating those 45 and above will continue to be free under the Union government’s vaccination programme.
So far, 17 states including Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Kerala, Goa, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar and Tamil Nadu have decided to vaccinate their population for free.
The Indian manufacturers of Covid-19 vaccines – at present this includes SII and Bharat Biotech – will need to keep at least 50% of their doses for the Union government while the rest can be sold to states or private hospitals
SII announced a prices of ₹400 for state governments and ₹600 for private hospitals/institutions, while Bharat Biotech’s quoted a price of ₹600 for state governments and ₹1200 for private hospitals and institutions.
As some states showed apprehensions regarding the high cost, the central government asked the manufacturers if they could reduce the selling price, one of the officials said. “It was always demanded that the prices be kept reasonable, and if some states are feeling it is expensive then they should consider bringing it down further,” said the second official cited above.
Experts, however, say that given the Covid-19 surge in the country, India needs to vaccinate its people faster.
“It is very important that the vaccination pace is increased. However, the impact on second wave is minimal and it will mostly be beneficial in reducing mortality in subsequent waves,” said Dr Giridhara R Babu, head, epidemiology, Indian Institute of Public Health.