In view of the severe crunch of COVID-19 vaccines and amid criticism for failing to have delivered the required doses to states, the Centre has said it will provide all assistance to companies that want to produce Covaxin, the country’s indigenous COVID vaccine, to ramp up supply.
Speaking to the media on Thursday, NITI Ayog member Dr VK Paul said Hyderabad-based pharma major Bharat Biotech has also welcomed the measure and is willing to help in the production process.
Related news: Patent monopoly over COVID vaccines is a cruel business
“They also reached out and under this initiative, our PSUs have been connected to this process,” Paul said.
He, however, said that there is a lack of sophisticated laboratory with most vaccine makers that is necessary to produce the Covaxin jab.
“Under this, a live virus is inactivated and this happens only in the BSL3 (Biosafety Laboratory-3) laboratory which is very sophisticated. Such laboratories are mostly not there in other companies. It is not something that every company has. Those companies who want to do this, we give an open invitation and we have already reached out from our side to make it together,” he said. “Still our request is, those who want to make this vaccine, the government will provide full assistance to ramp up the capacity,” Paul said.
The Department of Biotechnology (DBT), under Mission COVID Suraksha, last month had announced that it plans to increase the production of Covaxin and double it by May-June by roping in three public sector companies (PSUs).
The PSUs are Haffkine Biopharmaceutical Corporation Ltd, Mumbai, a PSU under the Maharashtra government; Indian Immunologicals Limited (IIL), Hyderabad, a facility under National Dairy Development Board; and Bharat Immunologicals and Biologicals Limited, Bulandshahr, a PSU of the Department of Biotechnology, to increase the capacity of vaccine production.
“The current production capacity of indigenously developed Covaxin will be doubled by May-June 2021 and then increased nearly six-seven fold by July-August 2021, i.e. increasing the production from 1 crore vaccine doses in April 2021 to 6-7 crore vaccine dose/month in July-August. It is expected to reach nearly 10 crore doses per month by September 2021,” the DBT had said.
The government’s decision comes amid a war of words between the Centre and the Delhi government over the availability of sufficient vaccines to inoculate all adults in the national capital.
The Centre also rejected Delhi government’s claim that Covaxin maker Bharat Biotech has refused to provide “additional” vaccine doses to Delhi, saying the national capital has received over 15 lakh doses of the vaccine and its role is to facilitate the states.
On Tuesday, Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia alleged that Bharat Biotech in a letter had stated that it cannot provide the required vaccines to Delhi due to unavailability of vaccines and under instruction of government officials concerned. “It means that the central government is controlling supply of the vaccine,” Sisodia said.
Refuting the charges, Paul said the Centre’s role is to facilitate vaccine supply. “We refute that there is any pressure on anybody not to supply to any particular state,” he said, adding that such charges affect the morale of vaccine manufacturers. “It is because of them that we are in the position of not asking others (countries for vaccines),” Paul said.
He said Bharat Biotech is also ramping up its capacity and has already roped in three public sector undertakings.
Earlier, Delhi Chief Minister and AAP national convenor Arvind Kejriwal had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying the Centre should share the vaccine formula of Covaxin and Covishield with other capable pharmaceutical companies to scale up production in the country.
Reacting to the Centre’s call to companies willing to produce Covaxin, Kejriwal on Thursday tweeted, “A very welcome step by central government. It will help in ramping up production.” “I also urge the Centre to directly procure vaccines from foreign companies rather than each state bidding against each other in international market,” he tweeted.
Paul said that 75,000 Covaxin doses have been given to Delhi in May. “In January-May, 13,91,000 Covaxin doses were received by Delhi. The state has procured 1 lakh doses, while private (institutions) have got 20,000 doses,” he said.
(With inputs from agencies)