The Health Ministry has rejected the ₹80,000 crore figure cited by the CEO of Serum Institute of India, which is conducting trials of COVID vaccine candidates, for buying and distributing it in the country. The Ministry, though, said it has adequate funds for the vaccine.
The Adar Poonawalla-led Serum Institute of India is the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines by volume.
Addressing the media on September 29, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan was asked to respond to Poonawalla’s tweet highlighting challenges in vaccine production and distribution in the country. Poonawalla had on September 26 tweeted, “Quick question; will the government of India have 80,000 crores available, over the next one year? Because that’s what @MoHFW_INDIA needs to buy and distribute the vaccine to everyone in India. This is the next concerning challenge we need to tackle”. He had also tagged the Prime Minister’s Office’s official Twitter handle.
“The person who tweeted it also clarified the next day. As far as we are concerned, we do not agree with the calculation of ₹ 80,000 crore. The government has made a National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration and they have held five meetings so far. In these meetings, we have considered the process of COVID-19 vaccine distribution and the amount required for it in terms of prioritization of population and the staggered immunization for this prioritization. In the meetings, we have calculated the amount required and currently, that amount is available with the government,” said the Health Secretary.
Poonawalla had questioned the government’s vaccine funds. Ashwani Mahajan, the national co-convener of Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, an affiliate of the RSS, had tweeted that Poonawalla could be “forced to produce vaccine free from exploitative royalty”.
On Twitter he had posted saying, “May it be known to you @adarpoonawalla that India’s Patent Act has a section on Compulsory Licensing and we can force you and your peers to produce vaccines free from exploitative royalty.”
Soon after that, Poonawalla tweeted praising Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his speech at the United Nations General Assembly, on COVID-19 vaccines and all the government’s “arrangements”.
He tweeted: “We share and applaud your vision @narendramodi ji, on providing vaccines to the global community. It is a proud moment for India, thank you for your leadership and support. It is clear that all your arrangements for India will take care of all needs for the Indian people.”
Modi has said in his virtual address to the UNGA that India can help in bringing the world out of the coronavirus crisis with mass vaccine distribution once all trials are completed.
Covishield — the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and pharma giant AstraZeneca and being tested by the SII in India — is currently in Phase 2 and Phase 3 human trials.