Centre sets ball rolling on Covid vaccine procurement, may hold meet Monday

A source close to the development said the government was trying to have clarity on which candidate had a higher chance of success before it invested in scaling up manufacturing
The expert committee on Covid-19 vaccine administration is likely to meet local manufacturers on August 17 to discuss procurement, pricing, distribution, and a scale-up in production.

Sources said the national expert group on vaccine administration, which is chaired by NITI Aayog member V K Paul and which met for the first time on Wednesday, will hold a second meeting next week, this time with the manufacturers.

An official who attended the meeting said: “We met for the first time. There are many things to discuss. It is a work in progress.” 

Health care experts said it was about time the government set the ball rolling for scaling up manufacturing because there would not be much time left after the world had a vaccine candidate.

Sujay Shetty, PwC India partner (health industries), said it was imperative the government invested in the risk of developing drugs or vaccines. 

“The development and scale-up of manufacturing cannot only be from the commercial sector. It’s a boon that in India we have one of the largest manufacturing bases of affordable vaccines,” he said.

Another source close to the development said the government was trying to have clarity on which candidate had a higher chance of success before it invested in scaling up manufacturing. 

“Firms may be asked to collaborate to make the vaccine and chances are high that a conventional technology vaccine may be chosen by the government because manufacturing collaboration would then be easier. Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, which is using an inactivated virus to make the vaccine, is a likely candidate only if it is successful,” the person added. 

A State Bank of India executive said, going by the current scenario, the discussion about the funding for the vaccine, covering manufacture, distribution, and logistics, was expected next month. By then, there will be much clarity from the trials underway. This (manufacturing) is seen as cost-effective for companies and so funding will be handy. Also, given the importance of such a vaccine, low-cost funding is in the works internationally.

Those engaged in vaccine making and related activities have low debt on their books. This will give banks comfort in financing them, he added.

An industry source indicated that Hyderabad-based leading vaccine makers might come together to scale up manufacturing. This could be Bharat Biotech, Biological E, and Indian Immunologicals. A vaccine maker which is in the race told Business Standard the firm was not scaling up, but once its candidate reached Phase 3, it would not take much time to add capacity. “There is a risk in developing such a candidate. The government is sharing some cost on clinical trials and we have grants from the Department of Biotechnology. We are confident about our candidate, but we cannot scale up by millions of doses before we are sure,” he said. 

Some like Pune’s Serum Institute have got $150-million worth risk-funding to make and supply the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to Gavi, the vaccine alliance. 

Meanwhile, India is planning to create digital infrastructure for inventory management and last-mile delivery of vaccines. It will also leverage its manufacturing abilities to supply the vaccine globally.

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