A sudden surge in COVID cases is compounded by the fact that India is dependent on just two vaccine manufacturing companies – Serum and Bharat Biotech – to meet the urgent need of crores of Indians. Of course, the Government of India has opened the doors for foreign vaccine makers, but why not look within and promote public sector vaccine manufacturing units?
Till 2014, Tamil Nadu alone had three public sector units which were into manufacturing vaccines. All these units could have come in handy to provide COVID vaccine, which is in high demand right now.
The BCG Lab based in Guindy only recently started manufacturing BCG vaccines while the Conoor-based Pasteur Institute has not been able to resume operations. The vaccine park at Chengalpet, which was to reopen in 2018, is still awaiting funds from the Centre.
“The complex was planned to supply vaccines at affordable rates for the Centre’s Universal Immunisation Programme. The three PSUs were supposed to bring down the cost of vaccines by 50% and were to make meet 3/4th of the country’s requirements,” said a senior health department official.
The Centre announced that once functional they would be able to produce 500 million doses of pentavalent combination and other vaccines. “The Centre has provided crores of rupees as funds to the Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech while the three PSU units in Tamil Nadu, which need upgrade, have been ignored completely,” said Villupuram MP D Ravikumar.
In the name of privatisation, the Centre is making people pay for everything including the COVID vaccine. “Even European countries have announced that COVID vaccines will be provided free of cost to the people. It is only in India that the Prime Minister himself announces a price for the vaccine,” said Ravikumar.
Recently, the Union Cabinet approved a proposal for allotment of 30 acres to Pasteur Institute of India (PII) for the establishment of New Viral Vaccine Manufacturing Unit at Coonoor.
The project entails production of viral vaccines (like TCA anti-measles vaccine, JE vaccine etc.) and anti-sera (like anti snake venom and anti rabies sera) at the PII, Coonoor. Land for the project was to be transferred free of cost.
The BCG Vaccine Laboratory was established on May 1, 1948. The lab was manufacturing freeze dried BCG vaccine, manufacture and supply of freeze dried BCG Therapeutic (40mg) for cancer chemotherapy especially carcinoma of urinary bladder when it was closed down a decade back and only recently restarted.
“We have the infrastructure, but these are public sector undertakings. The present government is interested in privatising all PSUs, so it is not interested in upgrading any of the three PSUs in Tamil Nadu,” said Ravikumar.