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Bharat Biotech seeks to fetch maximum price of ‘covaxin’ to recover costs

By Saima Siddiqui 
Updated Date

New Delhi: As soon as central government given nod to sale of covid-19 vaccines in open market, Dr Krishna Ella, Chairman and Managing Director of Bharat Biotech International Ltd (maker of covaxin ), on Tuesday said that he would like to get the maximum price for the Covid-19 vaccine to recover all costs, including the ₹350 crore spent on clinical trials, in order to have money to work on vaccines for all kinds of infectious diseases.

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He further claimed that Bharat Biotech had not asked the central government for any money for the trials or any advances for increasing vaccine manufacturing capacity. Ella was speaking at the 6th National Leadership of All India Management Association (AIMA).

On Monday, during a meet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the government rolled out its “liberalised” and “accelerated” Phase 3 Strategy of the National Covid-19 Vaccination program coming into effect from May 1, 2021. In an important development, vaccine manufacturers would now be free to supply the 50% doses to State governments and in the open market.

The manufacturers would, however, have to supply 50% of their monthly Central Drugs Laboratory (CDL) released doses to government of India as per the agreed upon strategy. Union government in Monday meet also decided to allow vaccination to everyone above 18 years of age starting May 1 through private market channel.

The policy now allows the state governments and private hospitals to procure vaccines directly. “Bharat Biotech would need the help of Government of India to give vaccine to the state governments and private hospitals. Government of India has blocked all the production capacity and left the state governments to figure it out,” he said.

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Ella also pointed out that the state governments will also need to work out the mechanism to procure vaccine from the manufacturers, as the procurement procedure for other vaccines involves tenders and shortlisting of suppliers.

Notably, emergency use authorisation has been granted to two indigenously manufactured vaccines, Pune based Serum Institute of India (SII) and Hyderabad based Bharat Biotech, and a third vaccine (Sputnik) that while presently manufactured abroad will eventually be manufactured in India.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday urged the vaccine manufacturers to continuously scale up the production capacity to vaccinate people in the shortest possible time as the country continues to have a shortage of covid-19 vaccines. “Vaccine manufacturers were getting all the brickbats despite the problems of getting the employees into the manufacturing facility and procurement of the raw materials. However, Bharat Biotech now had four production facilities in Hyderabad and two more will open in Bengaluru soon and by July-August, the company will have the capacity to produce 700-800 million doses per year,” Ella said.

“The company produced 15 million doses in March and in April it will produce 20 million and 30 million the next month, when the Bengaluru factories will start functioning,” he further said.

Welcoming centre’s decision to allow foreign vaccines in the market, Ella said, “We want all options available, if they are well tested and proven,” he said. However, he argued that some countries were strategically delaying Indian vaccines. “When it gets global, each country wants to play politics,” he said.

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As India has detected over 1000 mutant variants of SARS CoV2 virus, and the debate is on whether the available vaccines will work against the mutant viruses, Ella said that The data on efficacy of vaccine on the new double mutant will become available next week, probably, and thereafter it would be the government’s decision. “We can plug in the vaccine, and if it does not work, we can change the strain quickly. We don’t want a vaccine that does not work,” he said.

Ella also cautioned that vaccinated people are also required to wear mask because the injectable vaccines protect only the lower parts of the body and one could still get nasal infection. He also said that the vaccinated people do not stop transmission of the virus, “Those vaccinated will get protection against seriousness of the disease only. That is the problem with all injectable vaccines.”

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