The timeline for a novel Coronavirus vaccine is all but set. Though there is still a bit of uncertainty, most experts, and others who should know, agree that a vaccine would become a reality by early next year, if not earlier. The next point of interest in the vaccine seems to be the price at which it would be made available to the public. That question is also being slowly answered.
On Friday, Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines by volume, said at least 100 million doses of potentially billions that it plans to produce, would be made available for as low as US$ 3 (less than Rs 240) per dose. This is at par with the lowest price indications that have been suggested till now for the different vaccine candidates currently under development.
Serum said this low price would be enabled through a new US$ 150 million funding it is receiving from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to ‘accelerate’ the production of Coronavirus vaccines. Serum has agreements with at least two vaccine developers, Oxford University-AstraZeneca and Novavax, to produce and supply their vaccines once they are finalised and approved.
Moderna, one of the front-runners to develop a Coronavirus vaccine, is reported to have said that it could price its vaccine between US$50 and US$60 (between Rs 3,700 and Rs 4,500) per dose. The vaccine being developed by Pfizer is expected to be priced around US$ per dose (about Rs 3,000). Serum Institute itself has earlier indicated that the Oxford University vaccine that it would manufacture could be priced at less than Rs 1,000.
But these are not standard prices. The price of the vaccines would differ from country to country, and also within countries, and within different target group of recipients. For example, the US$ 39 price for Moderna vaccine is only for the United States market. It is expected to be cheaper in many other countries.
AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer have indicated that they did not intend to profit from the vaccines, and would be willing to sell it at the cost price. However, Moderna has said it would not sell it at cost.
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The cost that consumers would have to pay are likely to be very different. That is because, considering the prevailing emergency situation, most governments are likely to heavily subsidise the prices of vaccines, possibly even make them free, at least for economically weaker sections. The advance agreements that the United States government has entered into several vaccine developers is also a form of subsidy. The US has committed itself to pay billions of dollars in advance to these companies to help them produce the vaccine, in return for assured early supply of hundreds of millions of doses of vaccines.
There are fears that such advance agreements would make the initial few vaccines unaffordable and inaccessible to everyone apart from the rich countries. Even Bill Gates has suggested that the first vaccines might not be the most effective, affordable or accessible. A better and affordable vaccine might take some more time to be ready, he has said.
(Source: WHO Coronavirus vaccine landscape of July 31, 2020)