India can expect to receive stocks of Sputnik V at some point between later this month and June, as Hyderabad-based Dr Reddy’s Laboratories (DRL) begins importing consignments of the Russian-made vaccine against Covid-19.
The availability of the vaccine in India will, however, depend ultimately on factors such as the number of doses that the government wishes to procure, the price, and the capacity of the country’s cold chain system to distribute the vaccine.
As part of its contract with the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), DRL is expected to receive around 250 million doses of Spuntik V, Deepak Sapra, the company’s CEO, API and Services, said on Wednesday. Sputnik V being a double-dose vaccine, this would be sufficient for 125 million people, but DRL can procure more doses from RDIF for India with “mutual consent”.
While discussions continue with the government over the use of Sputnik V in India’s immunization campaign, the company will start imports “this quarter”, Sapra said.
DRL said it could not comment or speculate on the price of the vaccine at this stage. Clarity on price and the number of doses that India will use will emerge “in the next few weeks”, company executives said.
While reports had suggested earlier that negotiations were on to price the vaccine at $3 (around Rs 225.50) a dose, Sapra said on Wednesday that “this point is still under discussion in terms of the number of doses the government could buy and at what price it could buy”.
“We are working with them to determine the quantities (and) the place where it will go. The priorities of the government and the discussions we will have with them and the other stakeholders will determine where all Sputnik is distributed,” he said. “The objective is that, over a period of time, we will have enough vaccines to be made available throughout the country.”
DRL has received restricted emergency use permission to supply the vaccine in liquid form. Additional stability data to receive approval to use a ‘freeze-dried’ form will be made available “in a few months”, which may ease cold storage requirements by allowing the vaccine to be stored at between 2°C and 8°C.
Till then, however, the company will have to arrange logistics to store and distribute the vaccine at much lower temperatures of minus 18°C to minus 22°C, at which its safety and potency can be ensured.
“What we have done at Dr Reddy’s is to line up the cold chain, and we have made the logistics arrangements to ensure delivery up to the last mile throughout the country. We have tested it out in a few simulation scenarios from Hyderabad, as far east as the Northeast – Manipur, as far north as Ladakh, and as far south as Tamil Nadu,” Sapra said.
“We have also lined up a solution that involves certain compact boxes which can be transported in a very easy manner throughout the country. Through a combination of air transport and road transportation, we believe we will be able to take this vaccine to all parts of the country at the required temperature condition,” he said.
“We will also be leveraging some of the infrastructure of the existing (government) immunisation programme that is in place to ensure that this is transported and stored in a safe manner,” Sapra added.
Once thawed, Sputnik V has to be used within two hours, he said.
The vaccine is expected to be available in larger quantities in the July-September quarter, once the Indian companies that have tied up with RDIF begin manufacturing in the country, Sapra said. RDIF has agreements with Gland Pharma, Stelis Biopharma, Hetero Biopharma, Panacea Biotec, Virchow Biotech, and Shilpa Medicare to make 850 million doses of Sputnik V.
“Over a period of time, the vaccine is also going to get manufactured in India…and we expect that, by the time we come to the next quarter, the capacity would have ramped up significantly. Till such time, for the coming quarter, we believe most of it is going to be imported from Russia,” Sapra said.
Ultimately, around 60-70 per cent of the global volumes of Sputnik V will be made in India, and “most” of the product made in India will be used for India, according to DRL.