There is a very wide supply-demand gap, from a market perspective… Even if we secure necessary stocks of vaccine in near future, its cost and affordability will be real challenges. We have a wonderful government which strangely thinks only SII and BB would produce and ignore several PSU and private vaccine makers in India.
‘Vasudhaivaka Kutumbakam’ is yet another Sanskrit maxim which is used as an empty sermon as none practice it. But as far as corona virus is concerned every life is same. This virus has no borders and knows no racism. It has no reservations.
The world and especially India need two doses of vaccine for entirety of its population to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Even if a state in India or India in the world is left out, or any other poor country is not vaccinated, it will remain a highly dangerous risk factor for whole of the world.
Martin Luther King Junior said, ‘injustice anywhere is threat to justice everywhere’. The truth of this quote is difficult to be proved. But there will be no difficulty in understanding a similar statement ‘virus anywhere will be a threat to life everywhere’.
If entire Indians are not vaccinated twice, it will not be the problem of Modi alone, but that of the world. ‘Vasudhaivaka Kutumbakam’ is yet another Sanskrit maxim which is used as an empty sermon as none practice it. But as far as corona virus is concerned every life is same. This virus has no borders and knows no racism. It has no reservations.
In India, between the Serum Institute, Bharat Biotech and Biological E, India had about 2.3 billion doses’ capacity to make any kind of vaccine. Serum Institute had two manufacturing relationships one with AstraZeneca promising a billion doses, and one with Novavax, again promising a billion doses. They had also announced that they are setting up additional manufacturing capacities for up to another billion doses, which may take some months or a year and probably in 2022 they may acquire the new capacity. The SII’s current capacity of the AstraZeneca vaccine (Covishield) is about 70 plus million doses per month, and capacity of BB is around 5-10 million doses as per report of Rajya Sabha committee.
Dr Reddy’s Laboratories and the Sputnik V vaccine is another hope if necessary authorisations are given. Through Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, Sputnik V has announced that the Russian Direct Investment Fund has promised about 250 million treatments or 500 million doses. Doctors say that the other one to watch out for is Zydus, which is hopefully wrapping up their phase three clinical trial. That is another 140 million doses of additional capacity that would show up in the market. If import restrictions are removed, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are also ready to enter.
Meanwhile Adar Poonawalla has left India and planning to produce it in other countries. Perhaps he will sell it to India in much higher price, and we might even purchase.
We have a wonderful government which strangely thinks only SII and BB would produce and ignore several PSU and private vaccine makers in India.
Reportedly Adar complained that he was threatened to the extent that head would be chopped off if vaccine doses are not produced and supplied to them. He talked about unprecedented aggression and serious implications. He said: “I’m staying here for an extended period because I don’t want to go back to that situation”. None even think of ordering a probe into the allegations made by Adar in an interview with an International Media channel. The silence could be adversely inferred as possible truth. Adar is driven out and he forgets ‘make in India’ and ‘make for India’.
The R & D behind the vaccine is quite expensive and its testing is a very costly affair. The meritorious part of patenting system is that the knowledge used for production of innovative drug will be known to all which would boost up further research to invent easiest, more effective vaccines might be made available to humanity with less cost. In return to this disclosure of knowledge, the inventor is permitted to have ten-year monopoly over the commercial gains from the product denying others from imitating it. But some experts believe that more than ten-year monopoly, the offer of prize fund to innovators will help the mankind to have benefit of science and research, at least in pharmaceuticals especially during the unprecedented critical situations like Covid.
While waiver is a global requirement, the Government should use the compulsory licensing clauses to increase vaccine production, assigning the work to all vaccine makers in India. To incentivise the research and the hard work put in developing the vaccine, the firms should be given a prize fund instead of allowing them to have monopoly over production and distribution.
India initially permitted only process patenting, which is a simple single-most policy that helped phenomenal growth of pharma industry that now can stand in competition with superpowers. India succumbed to international ‘blackmail’ like pressures and switched over to product patenting also.
Before that India successfully fought the AIDS disease with its own vaccines and medicines. But from the last one year, we are struggling with pandemic.
Prof Srinath Reddy questioned criticism against quality of production in countries like India, “between 1972 and 2005, India had adopted process patenting rather than product patenting, and built up a huge generic industry. If western companies are interested in contracting Indian companies for manufacturing their vaccines in India, then how can they say you do not have the quality to produce on your own?”
In India, its public sector unit ICMR is contributing the knowhow of the vaccine produced by Bharat Biotech for a five per cent royalty, while Serum Institute of India is having an agreement with Oxford University. Since the public sector company is the inventor, it is easy for Indian government to negotiate with all vaccine producers in India to maximise their production. It can also offer incentives and financial support to increase their capacity. They should help Bharat Biotech and SII to double the production besides roping in all other vaccine makers. With this the Government also can counter the criticism that it is unduly favouring one or two vaccine makers.
It is reported that the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) is willing to share the know-how to produce the indigenously developed Covid-19 vaccine, Covaxin, with any company as the contract with co-developer Bharat Biotech is not close-ended. As on today, Bharat Biotech has the sole licence to manufacture Covaxin, which it developed in collaboration with scientists from ICMR’s Pune-based National Institute of Virology (NIV). An official told a media house that that the terms and conditions agreed upon while transferring the Covid-19 vaccine technology was that Bharat Bio will pay the ICMR 5 per cent royalty on the net sales of Covaxin.
“The contract with Bharat Biotech is not close-ended, it is open-ended in terms of sharing of technology. So, we are free to share the know-how with other companies. Currently, we are entitled to get 5 per cent royalty from Bharat Biotech on an annual basis,” as per a media report quoting unnamed official.
India has administered 9.5 crore vaccine doses to 8.4 crore people – 6 per cent of the total population – by April 10. India has also exported about 6.4 crore vaccine doses, per commitments made by private sector manufacturers like the Serum Institute of India before the current crisis.
Giridhar R Babu, professor and head, life-course epidemiology at the Public Health Foundation of India in Bengaluru said that “if we were to look at just the vulnerable people [with comorbidities] in India, one in three adults has high blood pressure/hypertension and one in 10 has diabetes mellitus type-II. If they are not vaccinated in the next few months, the risk of seriousness and mortality from Covid-19 they face is high. So, it is imperative to cover at least the vulnerable groups as soon as possible, and then think of expanding to other age groups”.
There is also a huge gap between the capacities announced for the developed nations versus those announced for the developing countries. There is a very wide supply-demand gap, from a market perspective.
The United States and Europe have double- or triple-booked the number of vaccines actually required for their populations. The countries like Chile, Argentina or Ukraine, which are all seeing a very high Covid-19 burden, do not have any hope to meet their demand in near future.
Even if we secure necessary stocks of vaccine in near future, its cost and affordability will be real challenges. Unless globally the corona vaccines and medicines are freed from patents regime and India allows all PSUs and Private Units to produce vaccine increasing their capacities to cope up with the demand of Indian population, vaccinating all is not possible. Government should come out with a plan and inform the people about their vaccination.
Courtesy: Hans News Service | 17 May 2021
(Author Dr. Madabhushi Sridhar Acharyulu was a Professor at Nalsar University of Law in Hyderabad, former Central Information Commissioner and presently Professor of Law, at Bennett University, Greater Noida. )