Doses of the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford could be available for purchase in India as early as March, according to a manufacturer, in the first sign that the sought-after vaccine will make its way to the market private.
Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, has a license to produce the vaccine and has already manufactured doses of 40 million doses. Once approved for use, Serum will initially supply the Indian government, but then plans to sell 20-30m doses to private facilities, according to Adar Poonawalla, managing director.
“Everyone asks, ‘When can I get access to the vaccine? “I told these guys it would probably be March or April,” Poonawalla told the Financial Times.
Pharmaceutical companies around the world have already ramped up production of several investigational vaccines in anticipation of upcoming regulatory approvals. Billions of doses are expected to be produced next year for governments that have signed term purchase agreements to immunize their citizens, starting with those most vulnerable to the disease.
In the UK, which approved the first Covid-19 vaccine last Wednesday, public health officials said vaccinations would be handled by the NHS and none of the vaccines purchased by the government would be sold to private clinics .
Pfizer, the US pharmaceutical group that developed a Covid-19 vaccine with BioNTech, recently said it had “no plans” to supply the vaccine to the private sector “for the foreseeable future.”
But the future availability of vaccines for private sale in other countries, such as India, increases the likelihood that a secondary market will develop for vaccines where locals or foreign visitors could pay for a vaccination if they don’t. are not eligible to be vaccinated under their own government’s program.
“If it’s in the private market it creates an inequity problem, you let people skip the line,” said Anant Bhan, health researcher at Yenepoya University in southern India. . “Ultimately this is a pandemic and a public health response is needed.”
Serum expects the AstraZeneca vaccine to retail for around Rs600 ($ 8) in the private market in India. For the Indian government, Serum has set a “philanthropic price” of $ 3 a dose, Poonawalla said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has said it may need 300 million doses before July 2021, with frontline health workers and the elderly taking priority, but is waiting for the vaccine to be approved by regulators before place an order, he said.
Once the AstraZeneca shot is approved for emergency use in the UK, Mr Poonawalla expects it to be cleared shortly thereafter by the Indian regulator and can be deployed by the government as soon as possible. January.
AstraZeneca said: “Agreements with our partners around the world, including the Serum Institute of India, prioritize sourcing from all governments and multilateral organizations to honor our commitment to broad access and fair without profit during the pandemic.
Experts say India will face huge challenges to vaccinate its 1.4 billion people. With more than 9.5 million infections and 139,000 deaths, the country has the second highest number of coronavirus cases in the world and the virus is diffusion during the cold and polluted winter.
“Careful planning is needed and this is where India is weakest,” said T Jacob John, former head of the department of virology and microbiology at Christian Medical College (Vellore).
With cases still rising in India, he also warned that vaccine safety could become an issue. “If there is a rush for a vaccine, it’s asking for corruption,” he said. “If the vaccine is good, but the supply is low, scammers will find an offer on the black market.”