Injecting urgency

| Updated on May 19, 2021

Centre has to think out-of-the-box to increase vaccine supplies. Global tenders by States may not work

Over the last one week, several States have put out global tenders for vaccine supplies with Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh being the trail blazers. On Tuesday, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai had to extend the deadline for the tender it put out on May 12 by another week due to lack of response. This is not surprising and should have been evident even before the tender was floated. The simple fact is that there is no spare vaccine capacity available with any of the producers across the world. The capacities of Pfizer and Moderna have been booked for the coming several months by the Western nations while Russia which produces the Sputnik is facing constraints in its own production which is why it has tied up with a laundry list of Indian pharma companies to produce the vaccine. With China being kept out of the tender by some of these States, there is little prospect that the tenders will get adequate response. While the intent — to create supplies to overcome the domestic scarcity — is understandable, the fact is that the tenders are unlikely to add anything significant to the market for the present.

There is little doubt that India needs to ramp up domestic supplies within the next 3-4 months, something the Centre claims it is doing. But its estimate of 2.1 billion doses being available by December seems ambitious because it includes some vaccines that are still in trial stage. As per an assessment by this newspaper, India’s total output is likely to be 1.4 billion doses between now and December. What we need now is a radical change in approach. Adopting the Biden administration strategy of funding six or seven players by giving them the required capital is the best way forward. Out-of-the-box solutions such as forging a collaboration between competitors, as the US managed to do, should be explored. The Centre needs to expedite output through plants such as the public sector Integrated Vaccine Complex, Chengalpattu, which has been lying idle since it was set up in 2012. It has already floated a tender for this and should push forward with attractive financial incentives. The effort must be to rope in more producers and help existing ones with financial support to expand their capacities. While the Centre has done well to identify 12 producers so far, it should also consider roping in public sector resources such as the Central Research Institute, Kasauli, BCG Vaccine Laboratory, Guindy, and Pasteur Institute of India, Coonoor, besides over 20 certified vaccine centres.

Above all, a Centre-State coordination body for managing vaccine supplies and allocation must be set up to smoothen the process. The Centre must take responsibility for managing vaccine supplies, including the pricing while the coordination body manages the allocation among States on transparent parameters such as demography, vaccination performance and so on. Clearly, the present state of drift and blame-game cannot continue.

Published on May 19, 2021

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