Covaxin production contract comes as a shot-in-the-arm for ailing Haffkine institute

Radheshyam Jadhav Pune | Updated on April 16, 2021

To make 22.8 cr vaccine vials; 122-year-old research centre’s MD says will take one year

In 1893, a Russian Jewish microbiologist trained in Odessa and the Pasteur institute in Paris arrived in India to test his newly developed cholera vaccine. It is fitting that the institute that Waldemar Mordecai Haffkine set up in Mumbai in 1899, and which was at the forefront of the development of cholera and plague vaccines, should be joining the battle against Covid-19.

On Thursday, the Centre gave its nod to Haffkine Institute to produce Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin. In the process, this 122-year-old biomedical research institute, which has been ailing for the last several years due to lack of funds, manpower and infrastructure challenges, might just get the crucial shot in the arm.

Now owned by the Maharashtra government, the Institute has been struggling, weakened by neglect, and haunted by politics and the spectre of privatization. Now, it is hoped that the contract to produce Covaxin will revive the institute to its glorious old days.

Speaking to reporters in Mumbai, Sandeep Rathod, Managing Director, Haffkine Bio-Pharmaceutical Corporation Ltd, said, “Our target is to produce around 22.8 crore vaccine vials, but it will take one year for us to start production.”

“An internal team as well as a technical team will set up the facility for production of raw materials. Once we receive all the clearances from the Centre about safety and quality standards, we will start vaccine production.”

A few months ago, a strong social media campaign was run by activists, who alleged that Haffkine was being deliberately weakened so that private players would benefit and that, finally, the institute could be handed over to a private company.

A government official admitted that the institute has remained neglected for years without recruitment of staff and upgradation of infrastructure. For several years, the director’s post had remained vacant.

However, with Maharashtra facing an alarming surge in Covid cases, the institute is back in the limelight. In February, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray asked the institute to prepare a plan to ramp up infrastructure and promised that the State government would provide financial help.

“Haffkine should be alive. The government must put in money to keep it going. Government institutes work for people and if Haffkine could produce Covid-19 vaccine at an affordable price, it would help us” said VD Sawant, a contract employee of the Institute.

Published on April 16, 2021

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