India is in talks with Pfizer, Moderna and other manufacturers for a possible deal to purchase a coronavirus disease (Covid-19) vaccine as rising infections pose a challenge to the country’s health authorities, officials familiar with the matter said on Monday.
The officials working for the Union government maintained that all vaccines will be considered for uptake, and Pfizer as well as Moderna’s announcements that their vaccine candidates were 90% and 94.5% successful, respectively, in phase 3 clinical trials prompted India to recalibrate its options.
A senior official of the Centre’s team of experts on the vaccine said, “We are mindful of the prices, the cost factor is a profound concern to us”.
Last month, Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech said their vaccine would be priced at $19.50 a dose, a steep difference from the Oxford AstraZeneca candidate that is expected to carry a price tag of below two dollars apiece. Moderna, the other front runner, has pegged its doses between $32 and $37 a dose.
To be sure, two officials from the expert group insisted that no agreement has been made with Pfizer or Moderna or even for Moscow’s Sputnik V so far but talks are on with all possible candidates.
“We are in touch with all manufacturers, both domestic and international. To provide access to vaccine to our people at the earliest, we have to keep in mind the entire landscape. While Indian vaccines are promising, some other candidates are ahead in the race. We are closely watching all developments. But affordability is critical and important,’’ said a member of the group.
Another member said recent news of the EU striking a deal with Pfizer and BioNTech for securing 200 million doses but at a lower price than the US has also caught the group’s attention and a bargain is not being ruled out.
“We will secure vaccines from every possible source. While our own vaccines are still in the race, some vaccines are near the finishing line. If we want quick procurements, we have no option but to negotiate with them.”
The central government has so far earmarked ₹50,000 crore — from its own resources — for the Covid-19 vaccine programme. The Oxford AstraZeneca candidate would fit the bill perfectly.
Niti Aayog member Dr VK Paul, chairman of the expert group, said, “We are keeping an open watch on vaccine developments nationally and internationally, with the goal of ensuring that we have access to a safe and effective vaccine at the earliest to the maximum possible people.’’
“We can expect a vaccine early 2021 — the first quarter of the year,” he said.