Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are very much unlikely to be part of India’s free vaccination drive due to their high costs. Sources said this would be a deterrent for bulk procurement and inclusion in the public immunization drive.
A central government official told ET that they will facilitate the procurement since both the companies have always maintained that they deal with sovereign governments only. “But these vaccines would be available largely in the private hospitals.”
The official said the Centre’s plan to scale up vaccination from this month to avoid a third wave. “The target is ambitious as we want to cover at least 40% of the adult population with at least one dose. This would mean large scale procurement of vaccines. If we want to increase the reach, more vaccines would be required and investing in expensive vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna would not be logical.”
The government hopes that availability of these highly effective vaccines would take the load off the public immunization drive as beneficiaries who can afford them would be willing to get them at private hospitals. The report says that another big factor working against inclusion of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is the cold chain requirement as both the vaccines need temperatures below zero. This can be maintained only in big hospitals in state hospitals or large metros.
The official highlighted that this restricts our choice of cities considerably. “It would require investment in cold chain. We would rather invest in procuring more vaccines for the masses. The vaccine bill of India is likely to increase beyond Rs 34,000 crore. Back of the envelope calculation now puts it at over Rs 50,000 crore. As per health ministry’s calculations, India has to cover 95 crore population. This would mean a requirement of 195 cr doses including wastage.”
According to Managed Healthcare Executive, governments around the world have been the only purchasers of the COVID-19 vaccines, so the price has been set by government contracts. But different countries are paying different prices. For example, South Africa, reportedly paid $5.25 per dose for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in January, more than twice the price of $2.15 per dose paid by the European Union, as per BMJ.
The EU is also paying less for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine than the United States, $14.70 per dose versus $19.50, as stated by the journal. On the other hand, the US is paying less for the Moderna vaccine, about $15, than the EU, which is about $18.
The report explains that the contribution governments have made toward vaccine research is the explanation for the price differences. Moderna is charging the US less for its vaccine because the US government funded research that led to the vaccine’s development. Similarly, the EU supported research that led to the development of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.