Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his tenth COVID-19 address to the nation, claimed that India has given the world two "Made in India" vaccines. This claim is misleading.
While Bharat Biotech's Covaxin was researched, indigenously produced and falls under the "Make In India" initiative endorsed by the Prime Minister, Covishield- the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is only being manufactured by the Serum Institute of India as part of a technology transfer deal with the vaccine's UK-based inventors.
At the 8:30 minute mark, PM Modi can be heard saying, "Disregarding all the aspersions of whether India could tackle this pandemic, within a year, India launched not only one, but two 'made in India' vaccines."
The technology, science, research for Covishield were all put in place by scientists at the Jenner Institute of Oxford University who later collaborated with pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca. AstraZeneca, then signed contracts with other vaccine manufacturers to further accelerate the distribution of this vaccine across the world. Pune's Serum Institute of India, renowned for its ability to manufacture large quantities of vaccines, was just one of them. AZ has also signed similar deals with Emergent Biosolutions in US, SK Bioscience in South Korea, and Siam Bioscience in Thailand.
SII has been manufacturing vaccines since 1966. One of the world's largest vaccine manufacturers, the biotechnology company has globally sold more than 1.5 billion vaccine doses which includes vaccines for polio, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, Hib, BCG, r-Hepatitis B, measles, mumps and rubella.
Covishield, as SII decided to name the vaccine, was one of the two vaccines along with Covaxin that were given emergency use authorization in January 2021. Currently, the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation, the drug regulator in India, has even approved Sputnik V and its arrival in the Indian markets to be purchased by the Centre and private hospitals.
Covaxin was produced by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research and National Institute of Virology. NIV helped Bharat Biotech with the inactivated SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Along with Covaxin, India has four other indigenous vaccines at various stages of clinical trials - one by Zydus Cadila using plasmid DNA as a vector, one by Bharat Biotech that is trying an intra-nasal vaccine, one by Biological-E that is using an antigen, and one by Gennova Pharmaceuticals who are using the mRNA technology.
Dr. V K Paul, Member, NITI Aayog, and Chairman of the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19, has been repeatedly stating that the Indian government has been talking to international vaccine manufacturers such as Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson for distributing their vaccines in India. SII is also going to manufacture the vaccine made by US based Novavax.
SII-AZ Vaccine Distribution Agreement
SII signed its deal with AstraZeneca to license one billion doses in June 2020.
This deal also included close to 20 million doses that SII would contribute to the COVAX agreement that was formed to ensure that all countries across the world have access to the COVID-19 vaccine. All the doses that Serum Institute of India sent under the COVAX agreement were a part of its pre-existing deal.
When India granted approval for Emergency Use Authorization to SII, it was manufacturing the doses on the funding they had received when they signed the deal with AstraZeneca, and another $150 million which they received from GAVI and Bill And Melinda Gates Foundation
When Did India Fund SII?
In an interview in September last year, Adar Poonawalla, Chairman of SII asked if India had Rs 80,000 crores to fund coronavirus vaccine so that it could be accessible for everybody in the country. He asked this question pertaining to procurement of the vaccines but not for the development of new vaccines.
Till April 19, 2021, the Indian government was only paying SII for the doses it had purchased. As reports of shortage of the vaccine rose, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman then announced the government's decision to fund the research and development of both Covishield and Covaxin so that their production capacities could be ramped up. SII got close to Rs 3000 cr but only after Poonawalla pleaded for the government to intervene as he wanted to raise SII's production capacity after a fire at the company's Pune facility in January slowed their production process.
Other Vaccination Statements By PM Modi
With other foreign as well as indigenous vaccines in the pipeline, the government has also decided to bring about yet another change to the nation's vaccine procurement process. After the Supreme Court reprimanded the Centre as well as several states complained that international manufacturers wanted to only deal with the Central government, the Modi government has decided to modify the vaccine policy.
The Centre will now take onus for even vaccinating people belonging to 18-44 age group. The state governments will now not be involved in the vaccine procurement process. The Centre will procure 75 per cent of the manufactured vaccines while the remaining 25 per cent will be procured by private hospitals.
Furthermore, PM Modi announced a cap on the money private hospitals could charge as service charge after there were reports of hospitals charging exorbitant and arbitrary charges. The hospitals can only charge ₹150 as service charge after procuring Covishield at ₹600 and Covaxin at ₹1200.
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