States plan global tenders but uncertain about doses
States have freedom to float global tenders for acquiring Covid-19 vaccines from any drug manufacturer, but they cannot inoculate their citizens with such vaccines that have not been approved by the Union government, which could emerge as a major technical issue, four people with knowledge of the matter said on Wednesday.
As states are spending their own money, they do not require the Centre’s permission for inviting a global tender, but jabs cannot be administered without the approval of the central government, one drug manufacturer and three officials – representing the Centre and two states – said, asking not to be named.
While the Union government has indicated that the vaccines of such manufacturers who have global approvals will not face any regulatory roadblock in India, there are some conditions that need to be fulfilled. This has emerged as a major technical issue during preliminary buyer-seller discussions, the people quoted above said.
On Wednesday, Tamil Nadu became 11th state in India to say it will opt for global tenders to get vaccines, even as officials in states said it wasn’t clear by when they could receive doses.
Officials indicated that most states were not confident of getting the vaccines soon because most international vaccine manufacturers have already made supply commitments to governments in other countries.
One of the officials working in an eastern state said: “We have decided to float a global tender, but there are limited suppliers and they too are apprehensive of regulatory issue. India is not their first option, hence any large-scale procurement is full of challenges. Ideally, there should be a centralised procurement...”
On Wednesday, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to allow “liberal, pro-active and discerning” import of vaccines, saying 100 million in the state need to be vaccinated and the supply of doses was “extremely inadequate”.
An official representing an National Democratic Alliance -ruled state said: “Centre is anyway interfering with procurement process of vaccines from domestic suppliers. It directs [the domestic manufacturers] quantities of vaccines to be distributed to states. It would have been better if a centralised agency would have procured vaccines for entire country ...”
After the Centre on April 19 decided to launch the “liberalised and accelerated” third phase of the national immunisation programme to cover the 18-44 age group from May 1, several states such as Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Delhi, Karnataka, Telangana, Bihar and Maharashtra have initiated the procurement process of vaccines.
The April 19 decision allowed vaccine manufacturers in India to supply 50% of monthly output to states and private hospitals after keeping 50% of doses for the Centre.
“Bihar government is in the process of procuring vaccines, but the task is not that easy. There are few vaccine manufacturers globally and for most, India is not priority. As of now, approved vaccines (in India) are only three – Covishield, Covaxin and Sputnik V – and they are not in a position to meet demand. Contracting any other vaccine manufacturer is risky as usage of such vaccines would be subject to the Centre’s approval,” another official said.
HT reported on April 30 that the Bihar cabinet decided to allocate of ₹4,000 crore for the procurement of vaccines to be given free of cost to all aged between 18 and 45 years in 2021-22.
Uttar Pradesh has floated a global tender for 40 million jabs on May 5, and the procurement process is on a fast track, additional chief secretary Navneet Sehgal said.
“Besides the three vaccine manufacturers [Covishield, Covaxin and Sputnik V], other global companies could be interested. The government would like to conclude the deal at the earliest,” he said.
“It is difficult to say at this point in time as to how much time it would take for any first consignment to arrive. The state is going to have a pre-bid qualification meeting with any prospective suppliers tonight [Wednesday]. After that, the bids are scheduled for May 21. The companies [interested to bid] would mention the delivery schedule then,” UP health minister Jai Pratap Singh said.
Earlier this week, the Odisha cabinet approved the global tender route to procure vaccines. “A technical committee is being set up to work out the details,” a state government official said.
Punjab health minister Balbir Sidhu blamed the inadequate supply from the Centre as the reason behind slow vaccination in the state. “In the start of the drive, we faced a lot of hesitancy for the vaccine. However, now when set-up our centres across the state and motivated the people by running massive awareness drive, low stocks has discouraged us,” said Sidhu.
Union health minister Harsh Vardhan said on Wednesday: “It is very important that we first focus more on second dose vaccinations. States should not lose sight of those who are to get the second dose of Covid vaccine. 70% at minimum ought to be allocated to meet the requirement of the second dose, while 30% ought to be reserved for the first dose.”