The myths on vaccines in India, arising out of “distorted statements, half truths and blatant lies” have been put to rest by Dr Vinod Paul, chair of the National Expert Group of Vaccine Administration and member (health) of the NiTi Aayog today.
1. Myth: Centre is not doing enough to buy vaccines from abroad
Fact: Centre has been engaged with the likes of Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson and Moderna since mid-2020. But being international vaccines is not similar to buying off the shelf items. Companies have their own game plans, own priorities and compulsions. They also give preference to country of their origin. India remains open for vaccine manufacturers to do so in India—for India and the world.
2. Myth: Centre has not approved vaccines available globally
Fact: The vaccines approved by US FDA, EMA, UK’s MHRA and Japan’s PMDA, and WHO’s Emergency Use Listing are already approved by India. These vaccines will not need to undergo prior bridging trials. The trial has now been completely waived off for well-established vaccine manufacturers. No application of any foreign manufacturer for approval is pending with the drug controller.
3.Myth: Centre is not doing enough to ramp up the domestic production of vaccines
Fact: The one Indian vaccine manufacturer, Bharat Biotech, would have three more plants starting manufacturing soon, apart from its existing plants. From one crore a month, it would be increased to 10 crore per month by October. The three PSUs will aim to produce 4 crore doses by December. Serum is ramping up production from 6.5 crore to 11 crore per month. Sputnik V vaccine of Russia would be manufactured by six companies, coordinated by Dr. Reddy’s. The Union government is funding through Covid Suraksha scheme the efforts of Zydus Cadila, BioE as well as Gennova for their indigenous vaccines. Technical support is also being offered through national laboratories. Bharat Biotech’s single dose intranasal vaccine is also progressing. India could be producing 200 crore doses by the end of 2021. How many countries in the world could produce conventional as well as DNA and mNRA vaccines of this scale?
4.Myth: Centre should invoke compulsory licensing
Fact: It’s not a “formula” that matters. Active partnerships, training of human resources, sourcing of raw materials and highest levels of bio-safety labs are required. Tech transfer is the key and that remains in the hand of the company which has done R and D. India is doing better in that Bharat Biotech and three other companies are now collaborating together. Same with Sputnik.
Think about this: Moderna had said in October 2020 that it will not sue any company which makes its vaccines. Yet no company has done it which shows that licensing is the least of issues. If vaccine-making was that easy, why would even the developed world be so short of vaccines?
5. Myth: Centre has abdicated its responsibility to States
Fact: The Centre is doing all the heavy-lifting. From funding vaccine-manufacturers, to giving them quick approvals, to ramping up productions to bringing foreign vaccines to India. The vaccines procured by Centre is supplied free to States. Government of India has only enabled States to procure vaccines directly, on their explicit requests. States very well know the production capacity of the country and the difficulties in procuring vaccines from abroad.
Centre had done a good job from January to April but the States, which could not even achieve the good coverage of frontline health workers in three months wanted to open up the process of vaccination and wanted more decentralization. Health is a state subject and the liberalized vaccine policy was the result of the incessant requests being made by the States to give them more power. The fact that global tenders have not given any results only reaffirm what we have been telling the states from Day One: That vaccines are in short supply in the world and it is not easy to procure them at short notice.
6. Myth: Centre is not giving enough vaccines to the States
Fact: Centre is giving enough vaccines to the States in a transparent manner as per agreed guidelines. In fact states are also being informed in advance of the vaccine availability. In the non-GoI channel, the States are getting 25% of the doses and private hospitals are getting 25% of the doses. The behaviour of some of the leaders, who in spite of the full knowledge of the facts on vaccine supply, appear on TV daily and create panic among the people is very unfortunate. This is not the time to play politics.
7. Myth: Centre is not taking any steps to vaccinate children
Fact: As of now, no country in the world is giving vaccination to children. Also, WHO has no recommendation on vaccinating children. Trials on children in India are going to begin soon. However vaccination on children shouldn’t be decided on the panic in WhatsApp group and because some politicians want to play politics. It has to be taken on a decision by our scientists after adequate data is available based on trials.