It is indeed very heartening to see the giant strides that India is taking in the development of the vaccine against COVID – 19. The recent visit of sixty-four foreign diplomats to Bharat Biotech and Biological E facilities in Hyderabad aimed at acquainting them on the progress of the vaccine development was a step in the right direction. The government and Indian pharma sector deserved credit for this move.
India is home to many vaccines that are being developed indigenously or being manufactured in collaboration. The list includes COVAXIN by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with Indian Council of Medical Research at Hyderabad, ZyCOV-D by Zydus Cadila in Gujarat and COVISHIELD by Serum Institute of India in collaboration with Oxford – AstraZeneca in Pune. Biological E is developing one in collaboration with US based Dynavax Technologies Corporation and Baylor College of Medicine in Hyderabad. MYNAVAX, a new start up in Bengaluru and Gennova Biopharmaceuticals in Pune too have also developed indigenous vaccines.
The cost of vaccine developed by international pharmaceutical companies ranges from Rs 3,000 to Rs 6,500 while the one developed by Bharat Biotech in Hyderabad is likely to be capped at Rs 100 per dose. Additionally, the logistics involved in storage and transportation of Indian vaccines are expected to be far simpler. India should be proud of our pharma sector and it deserves a salute from every Indian.
A vaccine to fight COVID – 19 pandemic is the need of every nation in the world. Unfortunately barring a few countries that have the capacity, resources and knowledge to produce the same, most will be dependent on import. Given the commercial approach of pharma companies in western nations, it is unlikely that they will supply the vaccine either free of cost or at a heavily discounted price to the poor nations. This is where India has an opportunity to spread its goodwill and take a lead in adopting a humanitarian approach as opposed to a commercial one.
India has world’s largest capacity for manufacturing vaccines. It will be safe to assume that this can be ramped up further without too much of a problem. India should look at becoming the most preferred nation for supply of this vaccine across the world. This can be done in two ways. Firstly, to provide this vaccine at a very competitive price to nations that can pay for the same. Secondly, it must look to supply the vaccine free of cost or at heavily subsidized rates to poor nations of the world.
It may be prudent to look at this exercise with an example. The continent of Africa has a total population of about 1,350 million as per 2020 census. Assuming India can supply vaccine to about 50% population of the entire continent in next year or two, the total number doses needed will be about 675 million. At the expected cost of Rs 100 per dose, the total cost for this number of doses will be Rs 67,500 million (or Rs 6,750 crores). In actual practice it may be less as the cost of production of the vaccine would certainly be lower than Rs 100.
Frankly in today’s context this is not a big amount for the Indian government. If the government just recovers a fraction of the money lost in various scams over the last two decades, it would be more than sufficient to fund such a humanitarian act. In fact, it will also cover the cost of free vaccine for 1,300 million Indians. Mr Malaya of UB Group owes the banks over Rs 90,000 million, DHFL promoters owe over Rs 800,000 million while Mehul Choksi of Geetanjali Gems and his nephew Nirav Modi owe over Rs 135,000 million. The figures for other major scams like 2G and coal block allocation dwarf these figures by miles.
Alternatively, it can be funded, partly or wholly, by adding a marginal cost to vaccine exports to more affluent nations or inviting contributions from international and local donors. The fact that such contributions are possible is supported by the fact that PM Cares fund which was launched in March this year collected nearly Rs 10,000 crores (100,000 million) in just first two months of its launch from within India itself. Frankly money is not the problem, it is only about the will to undertake a humanitarian task at such a large scale.
What would India gain if it were to go through with this humanitarian act. First and foremost is international goodwill and recognition. Hopefully its list of friends and well wishers will grow by leaps and bounds. Indian pharma sector will achieve international recognition that should translate into big business in the years to come. It is quite likely that the new business opportunities will not be limited to pharmaceutical sector alone. India will have a greater voice in international forums with the new found support from various countries. In short India’s stock will go up internationally in many ways.
Above all it will set a precedent by actually proving that better placed nations can share their resources to make this world a better place for the whole humanity. World over there is a lot of rhetoric on the subject of making the world a better place to live and to improve the standard of living of poor people across the world. However, the reality on the ground tells a different story decade after decade. It is time to put one’s money where the mouth is. The question is can India lead the way? Can it live up to the philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam that emphasizes that World is one big family?
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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