Pune’s Serum Institute of India has sought indemnity from the government as talks are on that the government may extend legal protection to foreign vaccine manufacturers like Pfizer and Moderna, news agency ANI reported quoting sources. “Not just Serum Institute of India, all the vaccine companies should get indemnity protection against liabilities if foreign companies are granted the same,” sources told ANI.
As the government is expanding the vaccination drive in phases, it is actively looking into roping in foreign vaccine manufacturers. Some states have individually approached Pfizer and Moderna, but the US firms made it clear that they would not sell their vaccines to individual states. As consultations are on between the government of India and the foreign vaccine companies, the issue of indemnity has become a crucial one as the government may agree to extend indemnity to these foreign vaccine manufacturers.
Explained: What is indemnity for vaccine makers? What Pfizer, Govt say about it
Indemnity provides legal cover to vaccine makers as under this agreement, these companies can’t be dragged to the court by beneficiaries. No company in India engaged in producing Covid-19 vaccines has this indemnity. In fact, a Chennai volunteer who took part in the Covishield trial moved the court seeking compensation of ₹5 crore from the company claiming serious side effects from the shot. Serum rejected the charge and filed a counter-charge against the participant.
“We need to have the government indemnify manufacturers, especially vaccine manufacturers, against all lawsuits… Frivolous claims come up and you see in the media something being blown out of proportion. The government needs to step in with the right messaging,” Serum Institute CEO Adar Poonawalla had said earlier.
Existing norm on legal cases
When India started the vaccination drive on January 16, it decided not to give indemnity to Bharat Biotech and Serum Institute of India. So, according to the existing norms, the companies are responsible for adverse impacts, if any.
Why Pfizer, Moderna want indemnity
Their demand is not specific to India. In all the countries where these firms have supplied their vaccines, they are insulated from legal cases.
What Serum CEO Adar Poonawalla said on the issue of indemnity
Earlier, Adar Poonawalla said that the government should indemnify vaccine manufacturers like the US did. “..the government can act, the US, for example, has in fact invoked a law, to say that during a pandemic, and this is especially important only during a pandemic, to indemnify vaccine manufacturers against lawsuits for severe adverse effects or any other frivolous claims which may come about because that adds to the fear and also will bankrupt vaccine manufacturers or distract them if they have to just all-day fight lawsuits and explain to the media what is happening,” Poonawalla had said.
Legal cases against Covishield
Since the vaccine makers in India are not indemnified, one can file a case against the manufacturers. In 2020, a Chennai man who took part in the trial of Covishield sought ₹5 crore compensation from Serum Institute, alleging side effects. The company filed a counter-complaint against the man.
An Uttar Pradesh man has recently filed a complaint against the company and also against Dr Balram Bhargava, the head of the Indian Council of Medical Research, alleging that no antibodies were formed in his body after receiving the first dose of Covishield.
(With agency inputs)