Covaxin and Covishield vaccine candidates Photos: bharatbiotech.com/Reuters/PTI
New Delhi: Amid wide criticism of its decision to allow vaccine manufacturers to set the price for their vaccine candidates, the Centre on Monday reportedly asked the Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech to lower the prices of their COVID-19 vaccine candidates.
After deciding to liberalise the vaccine plan, the Centre also allowed the manufacturers to sell their vaccine candidates to state governments and private hospitals at a “self-set price”.
Following this announcement, SII said it would sell its Covishield vaccine candidate at Rs 400 per dose to state governments and Rs 600 per dose to private hospitals. Bharat Biotech said Covaxin would be sold at Rs 600 per dose to state governments and Rs 1,200 per dose to private hospitals. Both vaccine candidates will continue to be available to the Central government at Rs 150 per dose.
This differential pricing has been the target of criticism, as state governments would be left to shoulder a larger burden. Former Union health secretary K. Sujatha Rao told The Wire that the Centre had abdicated its responsibility to vaccinate citizens, adding that it was “too generous to private pharma companies by allowing them to set prices completely independently”.
Various opposition party leaders and state governments have also criticised the pricing and the Centre’s policy. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said “this is not time for profiteering”, asking the Centre to ensure that the prices are dropped.
According to news agency PTI, the issue of vaccine pricing was discussed at a meeting chaired by cabinet secretary Rajiv Gauba. SII and Bharat Biotech are now expected to come up with revised pricing for their vaccine candidates.
India’s COVID-19 vaccination drive will be further expanded on May 1, when everyone above the age of 18 will be allowed to get inoculated. Under the new regime, manufacturers will supply 50% of their monthly doses to the Central government, and will be free to supply the remaining 50% to state governments and the open market.
SII’s Adar Poonawalla has defended the higher price, saying the earlier rate of Rs 150 was based on “advance funding”, and the company now has to invest in scaling up its capacity to produce more shots. Meanwhile, Bharat Biotech chairman and managing director Krishna Ella had said that recovering cost is essential for innovation, justifying the higher prices.
However, with the Centre already extending Rs 3,000 crore to SII and Rs 1,500 crore to Bharat Biotech, to expand their capabilities, these statements have come under fire.
(With PTI inputs)