The Serum Institute of India (SII) says it would sell the AstraZeneca vaccine to the country’s state governments at 400 rupees ($5.30) per dose and to private hospitals at 600 rupees ($7.95), as the central government continues to receive the vaccine at 150 rupees ($2).
“Furthermore, owing to the complexity, and urgency of the situation it is challenging to supply it independently to each corporate entity,” it said in a statement on Wednesday.
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“We would urge all corporate and private individuals to access the vaccines through the state facilitated machinery and private health systems.”
SII, the world’s largest vaccine maker, sells the AstraZeneca vaccine in India under the Covishield brand name.
IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT pic.twitter.com/bTsMs8AKth
— SerumInstituteIndia (@SerumInstIndia) April 21, 2021
On Monday, the Indian government said it will open its vaccination drive to all adults from May 1, with 50 percent of vaccine doses reserved for the federal government and the rest to be divided between states and private hospitals.
The SII’s announcement came as new coronavirus infections and deaths set fresh records in India.
Authorities registered approximately 295,000 fresh cases and 2,023 deaths in the last 24 hours, according to health ministry data. Both were highest-ever single-day tallies.
As soon as the SII announced its prices, a senior politician and former federal minister belonging to the main opposition Congress party criticised the government, saying the different prices for states “will bleed dry the already reeling state finances”.
“We demand one nation, one price for centre and state government,” Jairam Ramesh tweeted on Wednesday.
Central Govt will continue to pay Rs 150 per dose for Covishield. State govts will now be charged Rs 400 a dose. This is not cooperative federalism. This will bleed dry the already reeling state finances. Atrocious!
We demand One Nation, One Price for Centre & State governments. pic.twitter.com/YiOIWosNee
— Jairam Ramesh (@Jairam_Ramesh) April 21, 2021
Top Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had also accused the government of pursuing a “discrimination” and not a “distribution strategy” when it came to vaccinating all adults.
“No free vaccines for 18-45 year olds. Middlemen brought in without price controls. No vaccine guarantee for weaker sections. GOI’s Vaccine Discrimination – Not Distribution – Strategy!” Gandhi tweeted on Tuesday.
Health experts have also expressed concern over whether millions of India’s poor will be able to get themselves vaccinated.
“Every person, particularly low-income families, should be covered … They should not be deprived of the chance to get vaccination because people from high-income families can go and purchase from the market. It’s absolutely important that no person is deprived of the chance to get the vaccine only on the grounds of affordability,” K Srinath, president of the Public Health Foundation of India, told Al Jazeera.
India kicked off its inoculation drive in mid-January and has administered more than 127 million shots so far.
Some local authorities have however been running short of supplies, and India has put the brakes on exports of the AstraZeneca shot.
“At the moment, there is not enough vaccine to meet the current requirement. Although the government of India has indicated that from May 1 they can vaccinate [all above the age of 18], to my thinking it will take some more time because those [vaccine] arrangements have to be made first,” Lalit Kant, former head of the department of epidemiology at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), told Al Jazeera.
Meanwhile, India’s Bharat Biotech said on Tuesday it is scaling up production of its homegrown Covaxin vaccine to 700 million doses per year.
Covaxin is being administered alongside AstraZeneca’s shot in India, while approval has also been given for Russia’s Sputnik V.
J&J seeks local trial approval
In a related development, Johnson & Johnson company on Tuesday said it is seeking to conduct a local clinical trial in India for its single-dose COVID-19 vaccine, which was paused in the United States last week on reports of rare blood clots.
The company said it had submitted an application to India’s drug regulator – the Drugs Controller General of India – requesting approval for the “bridging” safety and immunogenicity study for its vaccine.
The global rollout of the single-dose vaccine, which is seen as a vital weapon in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, received a jolt when US federal health agencies last Tuesday recommended pausing its use.
J&J’s India application, which the company said was to comply with local regulations, comes as the country grapples with a second wave in COVID-19 cases that has severely strained its health system and caused shortages of oxygen and medicines.
Last week, India said it would fast-track emergency approvals for foreign-made COVID-19 vaccines, a move that would exempt companies from carrying out “bridging” trials for their vaccines.
Johnson & Johnson did not immediately give more details about the process.
Bilal Kuchay contributed to this report from New Delhi, India