Updated: May 24, 2021 6:55:07 am
Punjab’s efforts to procure Covid-19 vaccines from global manufacturers suffered a setback on Sunday after Moderna turned down the government’s request, saying it does not supply directly to states.
“They have written to us that as a part of their policy, they do not deal directly with states or private parties. They only deal with the Government of India,” the Punjab government’s Nodal Officer for Vaccination Vikas Garg told The Indian Express.
Garg had written to the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based pharma and biotech company two days ago, seeking supplies of its mRNA vaccine for the state.
Several other states and the Mumbai civic body have also floated global tenders to overcome the crippling shortages that have slowed the pace of vaccination amid the second wave of the epidemic in India.
“We cannot call it a discouraging response,” Garg said. “One of the companies has refused. Let us see what others do. There is a shortage of vaccines the world over. We are leaving no stone unturned to ensure that our entire population gets vaccinated as soon as possible.”
After Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh directed officials on May 20 to float global tenders, the government had written to the manufacturers of the Pfizer, Moderna, Sputnik V, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
Global suppliers have no capacity
While many states have said they would float global tenders for vaccines, almost all manufacturers are already committed, and probably have no spare capacity to supply in the immediate future.
“We have received a reply from only Moderna yet. Response from other companies is awaited,” Garg said.
Garg also said that Punjab had received a “positive” response from COVAX, but declined to provide details. The Punjab government had announced on May 14 that it had “decided to join” the WHO-led initiative to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines, especially to the world’s poorer countries.
“All I can say is that it is a positive response. They (COVAX) have replied to our communication and they are saying that they will take the discussion forward. They are our hope,” Garg said.
Chief Secretary Vini Mahajan said that the state government had expected Moderna’s response.
“We have already requested the Government of India to procure the vaccine for the states. The Chief Minister has written a letter to the Prime Minister about the issue. We obviously wanted to make efforts. Hence, we wrote to companies and made an outreach. We did not want to assume that they would not supply directly to us. We are also told that Pfizer wants to sign an indemnity bond which only the GOI can provide,” she said.
Health Secretary Hussan Lal said that Punjab was primarily looking at sourcing supplies from COVAX. “They are providing to the developing and underdeveloped nations. If we can source supplies from them, it would be ideal as we will get vaccine at cheaper prices. For now, only one manufacturer has refused. Let us see what others say.”
The Indian Express had reported last month that Pfizer had decided to supply its vaccine only through “government channels” in India. It had not clarified whether it meant the central or state governments.
Asked whether the Centre’s decision to allow the sale of 50 per cent supply of any company’s Covid-19 vaccine “in the open market” impacted Pfizer’s plans for India, a company spokesperson had said it would supply “only through government contracts based on agreements with respective government authorities and following regulatory authorisation or approval”.
Punjab has set aside Rs 1,000 crore for purchase of vaccines, to be given free to the 18-44 group. It has, however, been able to buy only 4.2 lakh doses so far, including 66,000 doses that were received on Saturday. A total of 3.65 lakh doses have been administered, leaving the government with a stock of only 64,000 as of now, Garg said.
Over the past three days, the state has been forced to stop vaccinations for healthcare and frontline workers, and recipients in the 45-plus group as well. Garg said the shortage of vaccines was “ acute”, and that the state had received fewer than 44 lakh doses from the Centre so far.
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