Modi Govt asks Serum Institute, Bharat Biotech to lower price of Covishield and Covaxin: Official sources

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Updated: April 26, 2021 8:08 PM

The central government on Monday asked the Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech to lower prices of their COVID-19 vaccines amid criticism from various states

Covid-19 vaccine CovaxinCovaxin was developed with seed strains received from the National Institute of Virology, and the phase 3 clinical trial was co-funded by the Indian Council of Medical Research.

The central government on Monday asked the Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech to lower price of their COVID-19 vaccines amid criticism from various states who accused the companies of profiteering during such a major crisis. The issue of vaccine pricing was discussed at a meeting chaired by Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba. Now the two companies are expected to come up with revised pricing for their vaccines.

The Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech has fixed the price of its COVID-19 vaccine, Covaxin, at Rs 600 per dose for state governments and at Rs 1,200 per dose for private hospitals. The Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s largest vaccine maker in terms of volume, has announced a price of Rs 400 per dose for its COVID-19 vaccine, ‘Covishield’, for state governments and Rs 600 per dose for private hospitals. Both vaccines are available to the central government at a rate of Rs 150 per dose.

The Centre has relaxed its vaccination strategy in the third phase under which the country’s large 18-plus population will get inoculated from May 1. Under the new strategy, the vaccine manufacturers would supply 50 per cent of their monthly Central Drugs Laboratory (CDL) released doses to the central government and would be free to supply the remaining 50 per cent doses to state governments and in the open market. The government had said the manufacturers would have to make an advance declaration of the price for the 50 per cent supply that would be available to the state governments and in the open market.

Many states have objected to different prices for the vaccines, with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal saying this is not time for profiteering. Kerjiwal also appealed to the vaccine manufacturers to bring down the price to Rs 150 a dose, saying that they have an entire lifetime to earn profits but this is a time to show humanity. He said the central government should cap the price of vaccines, if needed. Terming the new anti-COVID vaccine policy “discriminatory and insensitive”, the Congress on Sunday accused the government of allowing vaccine makers to profiteer to the tune of Rs 1.11 lakh crore.

Congress general secretary and chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said, “The population below 45 years of age is 101 crore. To vaccinate them, we need 202 crore doses and the cost of these will have to be borne by the states or the individuals themselves. Based on this and assuming that states will provide 50 per cent vaccination and individuals will bear 50 per cent of vaccination cost, the profit of the two vaccine manufacturers — Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech — will be Rs 1,11,100 crore.”

“The Modi government is guilty of permitting brazen profiteering of vaccination. The Modi government is also guilty of abdicating its responsibility and abandoning the young of India between the age group of 18 and 45 years,” he alleged and demanded free vaccination of all Indians. The Serum Institute of India (SII) has, however, defended pricing Covishield vaccine at 1.5 times the initial rate, saying the earlier price was based on advance funding and now it has to invest in scaling up and expanding capacity to produce more shots.

In a statement on Saturday, the Serum Institute clarified that there was an “inaccurate comparison” done between the global prices of the vaccine with India. “Covishield is the most affordable COVID-19 vaccine available in the market today,” SII said. Emphasising that the company has to ensure sustainability, SII said, “The current situation is extremely dire; the virus is constantly mutating while the public remains at risk. Identifying the uncertainty, we have to ensure sustainability as we must be able to invest in scaling up and expanding our capacity to fight the pandemic and save lives.”

“The price of the vaccine is still lower than a lot of other medical treatment and essentials required to treat COVID-19 and other life-threatening diseases,” it added. Announcing the price of its coronavirus vaccine, Bharat Biotech Chairman and Managing Director Krishna M Ella said that recovering cost is essential in the journey of innovation towards other vaccines such as intranasal Covid-19, Chikungunya, Zika, and Cholera.

The government on Monday stressed on expediting the vaccination drive as a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic ripped through the country. India’s daily COVID-19 infection tally and death toll have touch new peaks in the past few days. The country recorded 3,52,991 cases, the highest so far, taking the tally of cases to 1,73,13,163 while active cases have crossed the 28-lakh mark, according to the Union Health Ministry data updated on Monday. The death toll increased to 1,95,123 with a record 2,812 new fatalities, the data updated at 8 am showed.

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