India Needs to Allow More Pharma Companies to Produce COVID-19 Vaccines
In around mid-March, with the second wave’s onset, there was a rapid surge in covid-19 infections in India. The number of overall cases per day came to a peak, with more than 4,00,000 cases by April end. With a large number of patients needing hospitalization and oxygen support, the only way to prevent the collapse of the healthcare system was to reduce infections by allowing vaccinations to all people above 18. After the government’s declaration that vaccines will be available to all above 18 years from May 1, massive crowds of people queued up at hospitals for their doses. With the enormous demand exceeding the supply, the only option left for many states was to postpone the above 18 vaccine drive due to the shortage of vaccines. Presently, the state governments feel that the only way to ease this deficit is to allow more pharma companies to produce COVID-19 vaccines.
With the increase in vaccination, more people will be immune, and the virus transmission rate will reduce. We have seen how their aggressive vaccination drive helped soften the second wave’s impact in the US and the UK. If we do not want this crisis to escalate, the Indian government must decide soon about upscaling the vaccine production. Right now, India has now put a stop to its export of vaccines to other nations. So far, it has already made a donation of around 65 million doses to needy countries.
How to Resolve the Current Vaccine Shortage in India?
India needs at least two billion doses to inoculate the adult population and more if it decides to vaccinate the children. Right now, there are only two main vaccine producers in the country Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech. Only three vaccines, Covishield, Covaxin, and Sputnik V, have currently got the government’s nod. Sputnik V has got approval, but presently, it is not available in sufficient amounts.
To vaccinate the entire population in India as early as possible, it will be necessary to share the vaccine formula with other pharmaceutical firms to step up production. Union minister Nitin Gadkari suggests allowing other pharma companies to produce COVID-19 vaccines after paying 10% royalty to the original patent holders. The Delhi Chief Minister also shared the same thoughts in his letter to the Prime Minister, mentioning that the two main vaccine makers should share the formula with other firms. By doing this, the government can end the monopoly on vaccine production.
Recent Developments Related to India’s Vaccine Drive
After tying up with the Gujarat government, Hester Biosciences, India’s second-largest poultry vaccine maker, is in talks with Bharat Biotech to explore vaccine production through technology transfer. A decision will be taken after reviewing the infrastructure at Hester and other essential processes. There have also been talks of starting a doorstep vaccination drive for senior citizens, which is another welcome step for Indians. Research is also ongoing to develop a vaccine that is safe for children below 18.
To cope with the huge increase in demand for vaccines and address the severe shortage, India must allow other pharma companies to produce COVID-19 vaccines. By doing so, the entire nation will be immune to the virus, and we will break the chain of transmission. India should study the vaccination model undertaken by nations like the US, revamp their distribution process, and make it easy for everyone to get their vaccine doses.
Vaccine Production and Distribution Worldwide
The main vaccine makers worldwide like Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca have been stepping up the production of vaccines to meet the increasing demands. But so far, vaccinations have taken place more in developed countries, and there is an urgent need to reduce the inequality in distribution. Countries like the US have only now begun to export doses to other countries. Russia and China are not only donating vaccines but also selling them. Russia has entered into deals with Chinese companies with a view to increasing the production of its Sputnik. It has also made agreements with countries like India, Brazil, South Korea, and Italy for making the vaccine.
Vaccination Drive in Developed Countries
So far, more than 1.60 billion people have received vaccinations in countries around the world. At the current rate, in one year, there will be a high level of global immunity. Many new vaccine makers are also entering the market. In the US, around 280 million people have got their doses already. The FDA has allowed the emergency use of the Pfizer vaccine for children aged 12 to 15. This is a significant step and denotes that life will soon return to normalcy in the US.
Around 35 million people in the UK have received at least one dose of vaccination so far. In Australia, around 3,610,000 have been given vaccination. Government and private healthcare centres in Dubai are offering two types of vaccines for free, and they plan to vaccinate most of their target groups by the end of 2021.
Developing Countries and Vaccination
Vaccine rollout in developing countries is crucial to save human lives and stimulate economic recovery. The covid situation may worsen anytime for countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Since India is temporarily not exporting its vaccines, these countries have to rely on China and Russia for their doses.
Efforts like the Covax scheme allow vaccines to reach developing nations like Ghana, Algeria, Uganda, and Nicaragua. Pfizer and Oxford Astra-Zeneca vaccines are part of the Covax program.
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