The Centre has bought the first lot of the two approved vaccines — Serum Institute’s Covishield and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin — at nearly the same price. The 1.65 million free doses of Covaxin being supplied to the government bring down the effective cost of procuring 5.5 million vaccines from Bharat Biotech to Rs 206 per dose (without taxes).
Moreover, people will not have the option of choosing between the two vaccines, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan clarified on Tuesday. “Many countries in the world are using multiple vaccines. There is no such option available in any country,” Bhushan said.
The Centre has spent around Rs 333 crore for the first lot of 16.5 million vaccines. Of this, around 11 million are coming from Pune’s Serum Institute at Rs 200 per dose (without taxes) and around 5.5 million from Hyderabad’s Bharat Biotech.
The government is paying Rs 231 crore for Covishield while it is shelling out around Rs 162 crore for Covaxin. For 3.85 million doses of Covaxin, the firm is charging Rs 295 per dose (excluding taxes) while it is giving 1.65 million doses for free. This effectively brings down the cost of Covaxin to Rs 206 per dose. Sources indicated that the price of Covaxin can come down further with economies of scale. The company now has around 10 million doses and another 10 million will be ready by February. Bharat Biotech has indicated that it will have annual production of 700 million doses in 2021 of which around 150 million doses will be ready by July.
“Being an inactivated virus vaccine, the yield is low and manufacturing it in a BSL 3 (safety level) laboratory adds to the cost of Covaxin,” said a source in the know.
As on 4 pm on Tuesday, the government had taken delivery of 5,472,000 doses at different centres across the country. The remaining shots are expected to arrive by Thursday. About 30 million people — frontline workers and health care staff — will be vaccinated in the first phase. For this, the Centre needs 60 million doses. Both vaccines are two-dose immunisation regime to be given 28 days apart. “We are placing our orders in a staggered manner. Firms are also aware of this,” the health secretary said. The next batch of orders is likely to be 45 million doses of Covishield for which the government would need to shell out Rs 1,176 crore at Rs 200 per dose. Adar Poonawalla, CEO of Serum Institute, has said the firm will charge Rs 200 per dose for the first 100 million doses it will provide the government.
A commitment for procuring 45 million doses has been made by the Centre already. As for Bharat Biotech, it is learnt that the Centre has committed procuring another 4.5 million doses.
The health secretary said India’s vaccines were much more cost-effective and especially so when compared to other candidates being used globally. Pfizer-BioNtech for instance is available at $19.5 (Rs 1,431) and Moderna for $32-37 (Rs 2,348-2,715) and Sinopharm at over $77 (Rs 5,650).
The effectiveness of the vaccine will begin two weeks after the second dose has been given.
While there are four big government medical store depots at Karnal, Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai, all states have at least one regional vaccine store. Some states have several such facilities. For instance, there are nine storage centres in Uttar Pradesh, four in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat each, three in Kerala and two each in Karnataka, Rajasthan and Jammu and Kashmir.
In preparation for the vaccine roll-out on Saturday, over 2,300 master trainers have trained 61,000 programme managers, 200,000 vaccinators and 370,000 vaccination team members. Each vaccination team will consist of one vaccinator and four other supporting members.
To begin with, 10 million health workers in both private and public hospitals will receive the vaccine, followed by 20 million frontline workers, including police personnel, homeguard, municipal workers, etc. For these two groups, the cost of vaccination will be borne by the Centre. The remaining 270 million, including those above 50 years of age and those with co-morbidities, will be the next in line. The details of vaccinating this section are still being finalised.
The health ministry is hopeful that in the near future, India could have access to more vaccines with Zydus Cadila and Sputnik V already in phase-three trials.