“The private market availability will probably be post March-April 2021, if the vaccine is found to be immunogenic and safe,” SII CEO Adar Poonawalla said in an emailed response to ET.
The initial supply in the open market will cater to large bulk orders. Eventually, the vaccine will be available to individuals too.
An official aware of the development said supply to private entities will take place, once government orders are met. Even though there are no advance purchase commitments from the Indian government yet, the health ministry has asked vaccine makers to set aside up to 300 million doses of the vaccine by June 2021. Unlike the UK, Germany and US, India has not yet officially announced its plans for purchase and distribution of Covid-19 vaccine.
SII had said last week that it was in the process of applying for emergency use authorisation for its Covishield vaccine, which is currently undergoing phase 3 clinical trials. The company has a technology transfer agreement with AstraZeneca for developing the vaccine.
Several Enquiries Received
If it gets government approval, it will be the first company to launch a Covid vaccine in India.
Officials said the company has received enquiries from several large industries and corporate houses which have expressed interest in carrying out vaccination for their employees. Other vaccine makers too anticipate a huge demand for their shots from private organisations when they are ready for launch. “The government has indicated that certain critical industries can directly buy the vaccines if required,” CEO of a Hyderabad-based vaccine maker told ET.
The advantage of companies buying vaccines in bulk and inoculating their employees is that it would enable them to ensure that business activity does not face disruptions and their employees both in factories and offices can work in a safe environment.
But the process can be controversial. Experts said the government should lay down guidelines for private sector procurement and warned that premature access to private organisations should not be allowed.
“I think the national technical advisory group on immunisation should come out with a policy. There should be clear guidance on whether private organisations can procure vaccines on their own and to whom can they make it available,” said Giridhara Babu of the Public Health Foundation.
Davinder Gill, the former CEO of Hilleman Labs, an organisation that develops vaccine for developing countries, said vaccines cannot be traded in the open market until the supply side is stable. “The government has to prioritise who to give the vaccine to… premature access by private organisations can hinder the process,” he said.
SII has stockpiled 40 million vaccine doses and said it would have made 100 doses by the end of December, which would be available to the government to begin its vaccination programme. It has also said it will ramp up production to 400 million doses by March-April 2021.
Apart from supplying to the Indian market, the company has committed to supply up to 1 billion doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to the World Health Organization (WHO) and Gavi’s COVAX facility.