By Dr Arun Mitra
As per the reports the Sputnik vaccine on its arrival will be first given to Apollo Hospital. Whether it will be inoculated free of cost or will be paid has not been made clear by the government. It is understandable that the production of vaccine against COVID-19 was not an easy task. But the hard work by the scientists around the globe made it happen. Normally it takes five years plus to prepare a vaccine but because of urgency during the pandemic it had to be made in less than one year
Most of the countries had promised vaccines by the end of 2020. Manufactures like Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca etc. even booked them by October 2020. The affluent countries booked large percentage of these as it involved money. Besides Covishield of Astra Zeneca from the Serum Institute of India, Pune, India aspired to make indigenous vaccine named Covaxin. The Prime Minister was so jubilant about it that he even announced in July 2020 that Indian vaccine would be ready by 15th August 2020. He probably wanted to take super credit by announcing this on the Independence Day from the Red Fort. The ICMR director Dr Bhargav issued directives to speed up the trials.
It was only after he was put to corner by the scientific community that he retreated and announced the vaccine could be ready by December 2020 or January 2021. This was realistic estimate since vaccine production requires several trials. It has however been allowed for emergency use. The WHO has not approved of the Covaxin till date. As a result many international travellers particularly the students going to USA/Canada have to face many problems. Convinced that India has controlled the COVID-19, the government allowed export of millions of vaccines in the name of Vaccine Maitri, ignoring the warning by the scientists and the medical community of a second wave which could be much more harsh than the first one. This has created difficulties in vaccination for domestic use. Presently our vaccine stock is insufficient, that is why now India is importing them.
So far in all the National Immunization Programmes including the small pox, pulse polio the vaccination has been given free of charge to the citizens. The pulse polio has been one of the most elaborate programme where the doses were administered door to door. There has been some resistance by a section to the vaccination programmes including that of Small Pox. But this was overcome by extensive health education and motivation. Ironically this time the resistance is being intentionally generated by persons like Ramdev and protagonists of use of cow urine, cow dung. These people are in regular visits to the corridors of the power in Delhi.
As announced by the Prime Minister from 21st June onwards 25% of the vaccines will be given to private sector who will be permitted to charge Rs.780/- for Covishield, Rs.1410/- for Covaxin and Rs.1145/- for Sputnik. It is interesting to note that the CEO of the Serum Institute of India Adhar Punawala had said in May 2021 about the price of Rs.150/- per dose to the government “it is not that we are not making profits but we are not making super profits”. As a philanthropic gesture on behalf of @seruminstindia he Tweeted on 28th April 2021 ‘I hereby reduced the price to the states from Rs.400/- to Rs.300/- per dose, effective immediately, this will save thousands of crores of state funds going forward. This will enable more vaccination and save countless lives’.
In the light of this it is difficult to comprehend why the rates have been fixed so high. As an afterthought the Biotech has come out with the statement that the price of Rs.150/- per does is not sustainable. It is astonishing that the price of such products is decided by the companies even during the pandemic. The government should have come out clearly on the production cost of the vaccine and fixed a minimum margin of profit. Several organisations have been pleading with the government to channelize the pricing of the drugs based on cost accountancy. A report by the Committee on High Trade Margins in the Sale of Drugs submitted in December 2015 had given similar recommendations.
The government should have planned to give Sputnik Vaccine through its own infrastructure instead of Apollo Hospital. This is a signal towards the happenings in future. The 25% share to the private sector will enable the upper middle and high income groups to vaccinate themselves. This will leave large chunk of the society spending their time standing in the queues waiting for their turn. Science tells us that if you leave large section unvaccinated the pandemic will not come under control. It is high time the government rejuvenates state owned vaccines and drugs producing companies so that profit does not become the prime motive during this crisis. The present vaccination policies will encourage super profiteering by the companies and add to the already existing health inequity to serious dimensions. (IPA Service)