The Serum Institute on Saturday responded to criticism over its pricing of the Covishield coronavirus vaccine – to be sold at Rs 600 per dose to private hospitals, Rs 400 to states and Rs 150 to the centre from May 1, when vaccination opens to everyone over the age of 18.
The manufacturer flagged “inaccurate comparisons between the global prices of the vaccine with India”, and said Covishield – one of two vaccines in use in the country – remained “the most affordable COVID-19 vaccine available in the market today”.
“Only a limited portion of SII’s volume will be sold to private hospitals at Rs 600 per dose. The price of the vaccine is still lower than a lot of other medical treatment and essentials required to treat COVID-19 and other life-threatening diseases,” the SII said in its statement.
“The initial prices (of Covishield) were kept very low globally as it was based on advance funding given by those countries for at-risk vaccine manufacturing. The initial supply price for all government immunisation programmes, including India, has been the lowest,” the company added.
The company also said that while the current situation is “dire; the virus is constantly mutating while the public remains at risk… we have to ensure sustainability as we must be able to invest in scaling up and expanding our capacity to fight the pandemic and save lives.
We at @SerumInstIndia have for the past five decades been at the forefront of supplying vaccines and saving lives globally. We care about and respect every human life and strongly believe in transparency, and thus we hope our statement below can clear any confusions. pic.twitter.com/YQ3x38BuFL— SerumInstituteIndia (@SerumInstIndia) April 24, 2021
The clarification comes after a report in the Indian Express newspaper that said that at Rs 600 a dose, people in India could pay the most, of any other country, for Covishield at private hospitals.
Those getting their shots at state-run hospitals could end up paying the full Rs 400 per dose if states decide they cannot absorb the costs of procuring fresh doses directly from the makers.
The report said the Rs 400 cost was higher even than that paid by governments in countries like the United States and United Kingdom to source directly from vaccine co-developers AstraZeneca.
The report also prompted the centre to issue a clarification of its own; the centre reminded people that vaccines procured by it and given to states would continue to be free, and those provided to private hospitals would be available at the subsidised rate of Rs 250 per dose.
However, the centre said nothing on the higher prices of vaccines states and private hospitals can buy directly from the manufacturers, under new rules that allow them to sell up to 50 per cent of their output to states and private hospitals.
The row over vaccine pricing has also been picked up by opposition parties, whose leaders have been quick to take the centre to task on this issue.
On Wednesday the centre had confirmed the prices at which Covishield will be sold from May 1. SII had said prices would be cheaper than other nations, where it can cost up to Rs 1,500 per shot.
The centre has also confirmed Rs 3,000 crore in advance funds for SII. This was after CEO Adar Poonawalla told NDTV existing production capacities were “very stressed, to put it frankly”.
The ramping up, Mr Poonawalla later said, would start immediately and that, by the end of May, he expected there would be 15 to 20 per cent more doses of Covishield in the market.
Mr Poonawalla told NDTV SII would be able to supply over 100 million doses per month after July.
The country is battling a frightening tsunami of Covid infections – this morning nearly 3.5 lakh were reported in the previous 24 hours, taking the active caseload to more than 25.5 lakhs.