Taking a critical view of the Centre’s present Covid-19 vaccination policy, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy on May 22 Saturday requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to halt supply of vaccines to private hospitals. In a two-page letter to Modi, Reddy requested that the entire available stock of Covid-19 vaccine to be made available only to the union and state governments to take up vaccination of all eligible as per the respective policies. The CM asked not to allow them to procure vaccines directly from the vaccine manufacturers.
As per the present policy, the private hospitals willing to provide vaccination services may procure vaccine doses directly from the manufacturers as vaccine manufacturers are allowed to sell 50 percent of vaccines doses to channels other than Government of India. The policy decision of the Government of India, wrote the CM, in this regard to allow private hospitals to directly purchase vaccines is sending out “wrong signals” to the people. Due to insufficient availability of vaccines under both channels of supply, currently only those who are above 45 years of age are being vaccinated in our State as they are more vulnerable but private hospitals are providing vaccine to those above 18 years as well.
According to Reddy, “Making available various options to the public to get vaccinated, in both Government and private hospitals, would be a good idea only if there is surplus supply and availability of vaccines, wherein anyone can choose any mode as per his/her choice/financial capability.”
“In a situation where there is not enough supply to cater to even the 45-plus age group completely, and no possibility of taking up the free vaccination of the 18-44 age group for the next few months, it appears very unreasonable to allow some private hospitals to vaccinate people of all age groups at such exorbitant rates,” he complained.
In today’s situation, where vaccine supply is very limited, providing this option to the private hospitals, where in they charge an exorbitant price, is socially unacceptable and administratively difficult to monitor. I request you to kindly look into the matter and dispense with the supply of vaccines to private hospitals,” the Chief Minister said.
The Chief Minister observed that it was not only a disadvantage to the poorer sections of society who could not afford such high cost, but it also creates a situation of black marketing of the vaccine, which administratively would be a Herculean task to control.
“Due to the price differential offered to them and also the flexibility available to the private hospitals to fix the price of their vaccines, these hospitals are charging as high as 2000/25000 rupees for each dose from the public. This makes these doses one of the costliest in the world and is inviting criticism from the general public. Vaccine is for a public good and ideally it needs to be given free of cost or at least at affordable rates,” he said.
“This makes these doses one of the costliest in the world and invites criticism from the general public. Vaccine is for a public good and ideally it needs to be given free of cost or at least at affordable rates,” the Chief Minister said.
Reddy viewed that dispensing with the supply of vaccines to private hospitals will help arrest black marketing of vaccines and “will be widely appreciated and generate immense goodwill in favour of the Government.”
The entire stock available should be given only to both the Central and State Governments which can take up to take up vaccination of all eligible people as per the policies of the both Central and different States,’ Reddy added.
CM Reddy highlighted the policy of AP government of vaccinating the entire eligible population free of cost. He said only those above 45 years of age are now being vaccinated in Andhra as they are more vulnerable and that those in the 18-44 years age group are not currently being vaccinated “due to insufficient availability of vaccine under both channels of supply.”
AP CM urges : ‘Transfer Technology of Covaxin’ that was developed by public sector
‘Ensure IPRs/Patents etc. are not a hindrance’
The above mentioned letter comes days after CM Reddy urged PM Modi to consider sharing the technology of indigenously developed Covid-19 vaccine Covaxin with all interested manufacturers to make abundant supplies of vaccines available to the public at large for early vaccination.
In a letter Jagan wrote to PM Modi earlier on May 11 Tuesday, he appealed to the PM to direct Bharat Biotech to facilitate technology transfer of Covaxin to whoever is interested and capable of manufacturing the vaccine.
Presenting a novel solution to present vaccine shortage crisis in the country, Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy has sought technology transfer of Corona vaccine Covaxin from its producer Bharat Biotech to other companies to increase production to fully meet demand and speedily, too.
The CM appealed to the PM thus: “Under your leadership, COVAXIN, India’s indigenous COVID-19 vaccine was developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) – National Institute of Virology (NIV). This is manufactured currently at the Bharat Biotech’s BSL-3 (Bio-Safety Level 3) high containment facility. The Expert Committee of Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) gave Emergency use Authorization to COVAXIN in January 2021.
“It has also been announced from your good office to increase the production of COVAXIN. It is learnt that at present the total manufacturing capacity of this vaccine doesn’t cater to the country’s requirement. It may take several months to get all vaccinated at this pace. Considering that the COVAXIN manufacturing is intended to be ramped up, we would request you to please direct Bharat Biotech to do technology transfer of manufacturing the COVAXIN and ICMR-NIV to provide the viral strain to whoever interested and capable of manufacturing the vaccine.”
The government health research body reportedly had invested about Rs 35 crore in its pre-clinical and clinical trials.
The Chief Minister informed that, “the average count of cases per day over the last seven days stands at 20,300 and as of today we have 1,86,695 active cases. We have taken all the steps necessary to prevent further infections and provide quality treatment, care and support. While certain temporary measures like curfew, restrictions are taken up, the ultimate solution is in vaccinating every individual as early as possible…
“ One of the measures we have been striving for is to provide vaccine doses to all eligible and vulnerable populations as per national guidelines at the earliest opportunity. We have in the past been able to demonstrate capability of administering over 6 lakh vaccinations per day. However, due to the short supply of vaccine we are not able to vaccinate our population at large.”
The CM also requested the PM to explore the possibility of involving all such production firms and enable them with the technology, IPR etc., to deliver the vaccine as quickly and as affordable as possible.
“This shall ensure that IPRs/Patents etc., if any, are not a hindrance. Anyone who can manufacture or is interested to manufacture the vaccine should be encouraged to do so in the larger public interest. Entire manufacturing capacity should be mobilized and put to use in these testing times.
“I, therefore, request your consideration and intervention and if implemented will go a long way in encouraging the manufacturers and accelerate the supply of vaccines to be made available to the population at large. I look forward to your favorable orders on this matter,” pleaded thus the CM with the PM.
With Telugu Desam chief N Chandrababu Naidu and other leaders targeting the Chief Minister every day, slamming him for the state lagging others in vaccination drive, YSRC leaders had stepped up counter attacks and alleged links between Bharat Biotech and Naidu. They even challenged him to bring vaccines to the state as Bharat Biotech belongs to his relative.
Centre says it is open to facilitate Covaxin tech transfer to ramp up production
Amid the growing chorus for technology transfer to mass-produce Covaxin, the Centre on May 13 Thursday clarified that a sophisticated technological platform required for the process is a major constraint.
This vaccine, which is an inactivated version of the Covid virus and requires the live virus to be cultured, can only be processed in laboratories categorised as biosafety level 3, stressed VK Paul, member, health, Niti Aayog, who also heads the national Covid task force.
Covaxin was developed by Bharat Biotech with support from ICMR which shares the IP rights of the vaccine. The government health research body had invested about Rs 35 crore in its pre-clinical and clinical trials.
“This suggestion (of technology transfer) has been welcomed by Bharat Biotech but it needs to be understood that Covaxin has been developed from inactivated SARS CoV 2 and can only be developed at laboratories with BSL 3 standards which none of the other companies in India has as of now,” said Paul at a press briefing.
He, however, added that the government will support any firm which is interested in going for this major technical up-gradation, in order to scale up the production of Covaxin in India.
Many experts, however, said that more than anything, it is the political will that would be required for an ambitious venture like this.
“If the whole of India needs to be vaccinated against Covid in a year, the country will need to produce at least 50-55 million doses every day and for that to start happening in 2-3 months from now, the government needs to plan today,” said R Ramakumar, an economist with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai.
“It should ask Bharat Biotech to transfer technology and quickly start empowering other vaccine makers to produce the vaccine on a large scale but that needs a quick and strong decision making now,” he told Indian Express. ( Express News Service)
Former Union Health Secretary Sujatha K Rao said that there are 6-8 companies, including some PSUs, which need to be immediately roped in by the Centre.
“These companies have the production capacity and as far as safety and quality norms are concerned that can be raised by hand holding the firms now so that Covaxin’s production is raised by a significant proportion in a few months,” she said.
For May-June, the expected doses of Covaxin for India per month is 2 crore while it is expected to reach 6-7 crore per month in July-August.
Those rooting for an aggressive escalation of India’s Covid vaccination programme, meanwhile said this number should go to ideally at least 15 crore a month.
The Centre meanwhile retorted the criticism that it is not doing enough on raising the production of Covaxin and said that it has facilitated the technology transfer agreements between Bharat Biotech with two central PSUs–Indian Immunologicals Ltd, BIBCOL and one Maharashtra government undertaking Haffkine Institute.
The Union government, in a statement also said that it has also extended substantial financial assistance to these three undertakings and while IIL is set to start producing Covaxin from September this year, two others are likely to begin manufacturing by November.
More such collaborations, said the Centre, are likely soon.