India’s central government has lifted its unique control over the delivery and dispensing of Covid-19 vaccines to counter the massive increase in cases that have crippled the country’s health infrastructure.
Anyone over the age of 18 can get vaccinated from May 1, the government said in a press release. Vaccine procurement policies have been liberalized to allow manufacturers to deliver up to 50% of their supply to the center and 50% to states and the free market.
The decision, taken at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, marks a deadly second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic that has struck the second worst-hit country in the world. Rising cases have overwhelmed India’s already difficult health infrastructure, leading to a shortage of hospital beds, oxygen and critical medication.
Main Features of Vaccine Policy – Phase III
In the third phase of vaccination, all local vaccine manufacturers will deliver 50% of their monthly doses to the central government. They are free to sell the rest to states and on the open market.
Before May 1, manufacturers are required to quote the prices of vaccine doses that will be available to state governments and in the open market.
Private hospitals have to get their care only from the 50% allocated to the central government. Private vaccine providers must also state their self-set rates, the statement said.
Vaccinations at government-designated centers are still free for health workers, frontline workers, and those over the age of 45.
The central government will allocate vaccines to states and union territories based on criteria such as number of active cases, speed of vaccination, and waste, as part of its vaccine share.
The government said manufacturers would be incentivized to ramp up production and invite other national and international manufacturers as well. “It would also make the pricing, procurement, eligibility and administration of vaccines open and flexible, giving everyone involved the flexibility to adapt to local needs and dynamics,” the government said.
While today’s decision will have little impact in the short term, it will definitely have a positive impact in the medium term, said a report from Barclays India written by its chief economist Rahul Bajoria.
Barclays gave three reasons;
1. Liberal pricing policies will encourage vaccine manufacturers to increase their capacities and other international manufacturers to consider manufacturing vaccines in India through licensing.
2. A more decentralized policy to distribute vaccines with no higher age limit may allow people living in cities, who were the epicenter of Covid-19, to get vaccinated faster.
3. A wider eligible population can help reduce vaccine hesitation and ensure that existing vaccine supplies remain high.
However, there are concerns that short-term vaccine shortages could skew prioritization and prevent poorer populations from having access to the vaccine, as pointed out on social media by K Sujatha Rao, former minister of health and family welfare in the central government.
India’s vaccination campaign for frontline workers began in January. In March it was extended to all people over 45 years of age.
So far, the country has vaccinated 12.38 million people against a target of over 25 million by July. Over 12 doses of lakh have been administered in the past 24 hours, a government statement dated April 19 said.
India is currently administering two vaccines – Oxford and AstraZenecas Covishield, which is manufactured by the Serum Institute of India Ltd; and Covaxin from Bharat Biotech Ltd. Russia’s Sputnik V recently received emergency approval from the Indian authorities. While Russia is currently being manufactured abroad and has to be imported, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd. and others teamed up to make Sputnik cans in India.
India is also inviting Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and others to seek approval of their emergency vaccines as early as possible, VK Paul, who chairs a panel that advises Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the country’s vaccination efforts, said at one Press conference on April 13th.
Meanwhile, the Treasury Department reportedly approved prepayments of Rs 4,567 billion to the Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech to expand vaccine capacity, ANI news agency reported, citing unnamed sources. Of that amount, Rs.3,000 will go to the Serum Institute and Rs.1,567 to Bharat Biotech, the agency reported on the late evening of April 19.