In addition, Biological E has a tie-up with Johnson & Johnson for making its vaccine candidates, and Dr Reddy’s Laboratories has a manufacturing tie-up for Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, with Mankind as the distribution partner. But India has no tie up or pre-purchase agreements with Pfizer and Moderna – the two companies that have emerged as leaders in the vaccine race – and who are expected to launch by the end of this year or early next year. The US, Canada, Japan, and many countries of the EU have booked orders from them and will first have access to their vaccines. Clinical trials for these vaccines have also not been conducted in India. As a member of the Covax facility, the country will have access to the Moderna vaccine but it is not clear what will be its quota and when will it be made available.
“There are many choices, but due to intense competition, advance bookings should be made, to cover at least high-risk groups. Low risk groups can be covered later with more vaccines which would be available by then,” said Anoop Misra, chairman, Fortis CDoc, a multi-speciality hospital in Delhi. Among so many contenders for vaccines, we should choose one that provides optimal efficacy (about 90%) and complete safety, he said.
A public health expert, on condition of anonymity, said rich countries were doling out billions of dollars to leading contenders and pre-booking their supplies. “I fail to understand why India can’t enter into one such deal and secure doses for its people. This only makes me feel that there is no value for human life here,” he said. However, some experts urged caution.
“We need to book only what’s affordable and feasible,” said Giridhara Babu of Public Health Foundation of India. In addition to safety and efficacy, the vaccine procurement strategy should focus on implementation in the field and affordability, he said. The country’s health authorities believe there’s no need to pre-book vaccines. “We don’t need all the vaccines at one go. No country on the world is even looking to inoculate the entire population. The vaccines will be given to high priority groups in tranches and hence there is no need for us to book vaccines or secure them in advance,” said a senior government official.