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Late-Stage Trials: ‘Committed’ to mass vaccination, govt yet to finalise fund allocation

With various vaccine candidates progressing to late-stage human trials here, some experts feel the cost that the Centre will bear may become clearer by early 2021.

Written by Sunny Verma , Prabha Raghavan | New Delhi | Updated: October 23, 2020 9:28:41 am
covid 19 vaccine, coronavirus vaccine, montek singh ahluwalia, india vaccination, covid 19 vaccinatio capacity india, indian expressApart from the vaccine storage centre at Pune, there are others at regional centres in Mumbai, Thane, Kolhapur, Aurangabad, Latur, Nagpur, Akola and Nashik.(Photo: AP/File)

The government is “committed” to providing the funding required to vaccinate India’s population against Covid-19, but is yet to set aside any amount for this purpose, according to senior government officials. With various vaccine candidates progressing to late-stage human trials here, some experts feel the cost that the Centre will bear may become clearer by early 2021.

“We are yet to get the exact estimates on the cost of vaccine shots. At this stage, no amount has been set aside for vaccination, but the government has committed that whatever is required for the purpose will be provided. That commitment is there,” a senior Finance Ministry official told The Indian Express.

According to Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan, “sufficient” financial resources are available with the government to go in for a procurement for mass vaccination against. The final cost will depend on a variety of factors, including how many doses are to be given of the vaccines that are approved and how the candidates under testing turn out.

“The price of a single dose and price of two-dose vaccines — because most of the vaccines that are being worked across the globe are two-dose vaccines—is still evolving,” Bhushan said on October 13.

Until these candidates prove their safety and efficacy, whatever figure is “bandied” around is “just a figure”, he said during a briefing on the efforts made by the Health Ministry to tackle the pandemic. Once multiple vaccines manage to demonstrate their safety and efficacy, the prices of these vaccines are expected to decline “drastically”, he said.

The government will have to ensure it is financially and logistically prepared to vaccinate “at least” 300 million persons by mid-2021 if it wants a shot at containing the spread of the virus here, said Public Health Foundation of India president Dr K Srinath Reddy.

“… We are really looking at all the essential services being immunised and all the people who are above the age of 55 being immunised at least … then you can say that you are likely to achieve some degree of containment,” he added.

According to Reddy, the costing will have to take into account the additional cold chain infrastructure and trained personnel required for vaccinating this population. It will also have to account for the awareness to be generated at a community level to prepare the targeted population to be immunised when the time for vaccination arrives.

“We do not know which vaccine is going to come out first, whether it is going to be an Indian vaccine manufactured on scale or a foreign vaccine commissioned to India and on what terms of sharing at what price,” said Reddy. It is also difficult to speculate the required budget for the government at this point because it is also not clear whether India will be exercising price controls, he said.

While it is unclear how much additional cold chain capacity is required, Bhushan earlier this week said the government was prepared to vaccinate at least 30 million healthcare professionals, including 20 million frontline workers and seven million doctors and paramedics, at a moment’s notice.

“For those 3 crore (30 million), we can do vaccination even today. We have the cold chain, we have the vials, we have syringes, we have everything,” Bhushan said on the sidelines of a briefing.

According to him, India has “surplus” domestic capacity, both for vials and syringes.

“We are in constant touch with the manufacturers. We also have an existing inventory within the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare … so, we will be utilising our inventory,” said the secretary.

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