28/09/2020 7:17 PM IST

India Has Coronavirus Vaccine Candidates, A Portal, But No Plans Yet On Buying Them

Serum Institute's CEO Adar Poonawalla had asked if the India government would have Rs 80,000 crore for the distribution of the coronavirus vaccine.

Euan Rocha / Reuters
A research scientist works inside a laboratory of India's Serum Institute, the world's largest maker of vaccines, which is working on vaccines against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Pune, May 18, 2020. 

On Monday, Union health minister Dr Harsh Vardhan  launched the ICMR’s vaccine web portal, which will provide information related to the COVID-19 vaccine development in India and abroad. (See here)

Vardhan said, “Research to develop a vaccine is being done expeditiously. There are at least three viable such vaccine candidates that are in the phase of clinical trials right now in the country. We’re hopeful that within 1st quarter of 2021 it will be available”, ANI quoted.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had in August said the COVID-19 vaccine would reach every Indian. His government, however, is yet to announce any plans of buying vaccines from the companies that are manufacturing them, the Economic Times noted.

Modi has said a “road map for its (vaccine’s) production and distribution among Indians is also ready.”

On Saturday, Adar Poonawalla, Chief Executive Officer of Serum Institute of India (SII), which is producing five potential coronavirus vaccines, including the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, asked on Twitter if the government would have Rs 80,000 crore available over 2021 to buy and distribute the vaccine.

SII, a private Indian company, is the largest vaccine manufacturer in the world.

This is the next “challenge” we need to tackle, he said, also tagging the prime minister’s office.

His comment was challenged by Ashwini Mahajan, national co-convenor of the RSS-affiliate Swadeshi Jagran Manch. RSS is the ruling BJP’s ideological parent organisation.

A day later, Poonawala thanked Modi for his “leadership and support.” “It is clear that all your arrangements for India will take care of all needs for the Indian people,” he said.

Mahajan then retweeted praise he received for his comment, even as many criticised him for his “threats”.

Mahajan’s sentiments were echoed, in a much more reasonable manner, by former health secretary Sujatha Rao, who said: 

Rao, however, added that while compensating vaccine manufacturers would be ideal, she doubted if the government had the money.

SII currently has five COVID-19 candidates.

SII has signed an agreement to manufacture the potential vaccine developed by Jenner Institute of Oxford University in collaboration with British-Swedish pharma company AstraZeneca. 

US vaccine maker Novavax has also entered a supply and license agreement for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate.

SII is also manufacturing Codagenix’s nasal vaccine candidate.

The institute, which has received $150 million (about Rs 1,100 crore) in grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to manufacture vaccines for low- and middle-income countries, had said that it would make the Oxford vaccine available at $3 for low- and middle-income countries including India.

Poonawala recently told CNN the institute was aiming at producing over a billion doses of the various vaccine candidates, but vaccinating everyone in the world would take till 2024.

“Take India, we have a population of 1.4 billion. By July-August next year, even if we were to produce 400 million doses, they’re still going to struggle to vaccinate everyone using those doses,” he said.

Vaccine candidates in India also include COVAXIN, being developed by Bharat Biotech and Ahmedabad-based Zydus Cadila’s vaccine ZyCoV-D.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had on Saturday pledged at the United Nations that India’s country’s vaccine production capacity would be made available globally to fight the COVID-19 crisis.

“As the largest vaccine-producing country of the world, I want to give one more assurance to the global community today,” Modi said in a pre-recorded speech to the U.N. General Assembly. “India’s vaccine production and delivery capacity will be used to help all humanity in fighting this crisis.”

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