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Covid-19: India fast tracks vaccine imports, pricing unclear

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coronavirus vaccinationcoronavirus vaccinationState governments had 1.7 crore vaccine doses with them, another two crore were in the supply pipeline.

The government on Tuesday moved to fast-track the import of a new lot of vaccines, including ones made by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, but details on the pricing and procurement of these vaccines remained unavailable.

VK Paul, who heads the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19 (NEGVAC), said on CNBC TV18, a decision would be taken in due course on how these vaccines would be priced and also on whether private procurement would be permitted. “We will be actively reaching out from today onwards and we need to hear from them. Let us wait for their offer,” Paul said, adding the quantum of vaccines imported would depend on the stockpiles available with the companies. Currently, the price of vaccines for manufacturers is capped at `150 per dose while hospitals are allowed to charge `250 per dose.

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The government has permitted the import of vaccines authorised by drug regulators in the US, UK, EU, Japan and also those on the WHO EUA (emergency use authorisation) list. These can be imported and instead of bridging trials in India, Negvac has recommended “post-approval parallel bridging clinical trial”. The trials will be conducted, in parallel even as the vaccines are being made available. The first 100 cases would be monitored for seven days as a safety measure.

Meanwhile, Dr.Reddy’s Laboratories has received the DCGI’s (Drug Controller General of India) approval to import the Sputnik vaccine, for restricted use in emergency situations; phase 3 clinical trials for the Sputnik vaccine have been conducted in India. Dr. Reddy’s has partnered with the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) to conduct the clinical trials of Sputnik V and distribute the vaccine in India. RDIF has partnered with five players in India and hopes to produce 500 million doses annually.

The availability of vaccines is expected to improve from July onwards as players like Zydus Cadilla roll out vaccines; “We expect Zydus’ results in two months,” Paul said, adding trials do take time. Other vaccines in the pipeline include SII’s Novovax, one from the Biologics-E and J&J alliance and one from Aurobindo Pharma.

On financial assistance to Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech to allow them to quickly ramp up production – SII CEO had said he required a Rs 3,000-crore grant – Paul said the “appropriate arms of the government” would decide how best these companies could be supported. He claimed there was no shortage of vaccines for those aged 45 and above and said four million doses had been injected across the country on Monday. A health ministry presentation on Tuesday said that while state governments had 1.7 crore vaccine doses with them, another two crore were in the supply pipeline.

Close to 109 million shots have been given nationwide so far since the roll-out began on January 16 with shots made by Astrazeneca’s local partner, SII, and Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech. The number of vaccination sites, Paul said, had been increased to 71,000 from 45,000 and a quantum increase in injections was being attempted.

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