Inoculating India

| Updated on April 19, 2021

Vaccine hoarding   -  The Hindu

Opening up vaccination for everyone above 18 years is good but vaccine availability should improve

An accelerated pace of vaccinations seems to be the only way to minimise irreparable damage to lives and livelihoods from the second wave of Covid-19. The Centre seems to have finally acknowledged this reality. The decision to throw open vaccinations to everyone above 18 years of age from May 1 is the right one given that the second wave has infected youngsters more than the first. But the critical question is whether we have enough supplies of vaccines. A BusinessLine analysis showed that even to inoculate its frontline workers and vulnerable population above 45 by end-July, India will need to administer 13 crore vaccine doses a month, while the domestic vaccine-makers can presently supply only about eight crore doses. Expanding coverage to the 18-plus age group will obviously call for even higher supplies. The Centre's recent move to fast-track approvals for vaccines which have been rolled out globally addresses one leg of this problem. But to ensure that the global vaccines do make it to Indian shores, the policy of centralised procurement and price caps will also need review. India is already quite late to the global race for vaccine procurement where developed nations such as the US have cornered production capacities through pre-emptive purchase orders. Among the pharma multinationals whose vaccines have shown promising results, Pfizer and Moderna have already pledged the bulk of production capacities to the US, while Johnson & Johnson and Russian Direct Investment Fund have contracted supplies to other countries at roughly $10 per dose. They are therefore unlikely to jump at the opportunity to cater to the Indian market at prices of $2-3 per dose, which is what the Centre pays to Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech for their vaccines.

To ensure that the multinational vaccine makers find it commercially attractive to supply to India, the government can consider a two-pronged approach. One, just like what it has done with domestic vaccine makers on Monday, it can insist that the multinational vaccine makers supply a minimum quantity to the Centre at a concessional price, while being free to sell their remaining doses in the open market at a profit. Two, stiffly priced vaccines such as those from Pfizer and Moderna (over $30 a dose) which require sophisticated logistics, can be entirely excluded from the mass vaccination drive, but allowed to be marketed to affluent Indians through private sector tie-ups with industrial groups or pharma giants. Such a two-track approach can help expedite vaccination coverage to a larger segment of the population.

Vaccine funding shortfalls can also be bridged by allowing companies to utilise their mandatory Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) coffers for this fiscal year towards vaccinating their workforce, their families and vendor ecosystems. India Inc’s aggregate CSR spends amounted to ₹17,880 crore in FY20 and this can be a sizeable sum in the fight against Covid.

Published on April 19, 2021

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