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Serum cuts rate for states; signals delays in delivery

On Wednesday, SII CEO Adar Poonawalla announced that he had cut the price of Covishield for states from Rs 400 to Rs 300 per dose.

Written by Kaunain Sheriff M | New Delhi |
Updated: April 29, 2021 1:51:06 am
SII, Covishield, Maharashtra, Serum Institute of India, mumbai coronavirus vaccine, mumbai covid-19 vaccine, maharashtra vaccine news, indian expressEmployees pack boxes containing vials of AstraZeneca's Covishield vaccine at the Serum Institute of India, Pune. (AP Photo)

From May 1, private hospitals will have to procure doses of Covid-19 vaccine directly from manufacturers to administer them to beneficiaries, both in the 45+ years age group, as well as the newly eligible 18-44 group.

However, three days before vaccination is opened to the country’s entire adult population, private vaccination sites have started to receive communication from Serum Institute of India (SII) that it will not be able to provide doses to them for the next 5-6 months.

Pune-based SII, the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines, is producing Covishield, the Indian variant of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine.

On Wednesday, SII asked Hamdard Institute of Medical Sciences and Research (HIMSR), one of the largest private vaccination centres in Delhi’s Southeast district, to approach “the state government for vaccine supplies which was provided earlier for the category of citizens over 45 yrs of age”.

Due to its “current obligation to meet the Government’s existing requirements and to meet the additional demand emanating from state governments under liberated and accelerated vaccination, it is challenging to meet independently the requirement across from large numbers of Private Hospitals”, the Serum Covid Task Force wrote to HIMSR.

“Therefore, we urge you to access the vaccine when it becomes available in the private market supply chain channels, which will take about 5-6 months from now.” Serum assured HIMSR “that we will continue to do our best to shorten the timelines”.

On Wednesday, SII CEO Adar Poonawalla announced that he had cut the price of Covishield for states from Rs 400 to Rs 300 per dose.

“As a philanthropic gesture on behalf of @SerumInstIndia, I hereby reduce 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 vaccinations and save countless lives,” Poonawalla posted on Twitter.

Under the government’s new vaccine policy applicable from May 1, 50 per cent of doses will be available in the open market, from where both state governments and private vaccination centres would have to procure to vaccinate the 18-44 age group. Private vaccination centres will have to dip into the same basket for doses for the priority group of 45+ as well.

Dr Aqsa Shaikh, nodal officer at the HIMSR Covid-19 vaccination centre, told The Indian Express that the centre will have to shut down if the Delhi government did not on its own provide doses to it.

“If individual private hospitals have to go to private manufacturers and ask them to supply, it is a very big deal. We tried that on the basis of the contacts that were given to us. And we received a reply that they were unable to supply to individual private hospitals because they were overwhelmed with the demand, and that they did not have the capacity to supply. The timeline that they are estimating, 5-6 months, I am sure it will be more than that,” Shaikh said.

“Until and unless the state government decides to keep private vaccination centres operational and supply (vaccine stocks), private vaccination centres like ours will have to shut down,” Shaikh said.

“Even the supplies that we have right now, we are supposed to return them at the end of April 30. We cannot carry it over to the month of May. Our supplies will be completely closed (from May 1) irrespective of the age group. We are not going to get doses for even the 45-plus priority age group until and unless the state government take a decision to supply vaccines to that age group,” she said.

Fortis Healthcare, one of the largest chains offering vaccination across the country, said the drive would continue only in “some” of its hospitals until April 30, and that they “are in discussion with the vaccine manufacturers (on) availability”.

“Basis the availability of stock, vaccination drive at Fortis Healthcare continues at some of our hospitals till 30th April. We are in discussion with the vaccine manufacturers to understand the vaccine availability and making all necessary preparations to launch the 3rd phase of vaccinations for 18 + age groups, as soon as vaccines are made available,” Fortis said in a statement.

Sources in another top private hospital chain in the national capital, which also has centres in other cities, said they had no information on the doses that would be made available to them by SII from May 1.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, the Centre opened registrations on the Co-WIN platform for everyone above the age of 18 years for vaccination. “People are registering on the platform, mostly of age-group 18-44. It witnessed more than 80 lakh people register themselves on the portal within three hours from 4 pm to 7 pm,” the Centre said.

SII had earlier announced that Covishield would be sold at Rs 400 to state government hospitals and Rs 600 to private hospitals. Bharat Biotech had priced Covaxin at Rs 600 for states and Rs 1,200 for private hospitals. However, both vaccines were to be supplied to the central government for Rs 150 per dose.

The Indian Express had reported on April 24 that at Rs 600 per dose, Indians getting Covishield at private hospitals could end up paying the highest price in the world for this vaccine. Even the Rs 400 per dose charged to states then was higher than the price at which governments in countries like the US, UK and the EU were sourcing this vaccine directly from AstraZeneca.

AstraZeneca, which has an agreement with the University of Oxford for this vaccine, has said that the doses would be sold at a not-for-profit rate to countries during the pandemic.

The new price of Rs 300 (around $4) per dose announced by Poonawalla on Wednesday brings the cost of the vaccine to Indian states on a par with, or even lower than, some countries that had entered into agreements to procure Covishield from SII, including Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia.

Bangladesh is paying an average of $4 per dose, as per Reuters, but the total cost borne by the country, incorporating the margin from distributor Beximco, is $5, as per a BBC report. Saudi Arabia had paid over $5.25 per dose from SII, according to UNICEF’s Covid Vaccine Market dashboard.

It is not clear how much over the Rs 600 (around $8) per dose cost people getting vaccinated at private facilities would have to pay.

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On Tuesday, the Supreme Court had taken note of the fact that “different manufacturers are quoting different prices”, and directed the Centre to clarify “the basis and rationale adopted in regard to the pricing of vaccines”.

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