Covaxin is the most expensive jab in the private market and even higher than Sputnik Vat Rs 1145, which is currently imported from Russia.
Experts questioned the justification for the high prices of Covaxin, as it is based on established technology, is produced in the country and its R&D has been partially subsidized by the Center. Other vaccines like polio and hepatitis B using a similar technological platform, are affordable due to the large volumes and economies of scale, a strategy that should have been followed from the start in the case of Covaxin, they declared.
In the absence of a one-size-fits-all policy, the Center would have to negotiate affordable prices for all vaccines in the private market to avoid profit, public health experts added.
A questionnaire sent to Bharat Biotech went unanswered. The government has invested in preclinical studies for Covaxin, and amounts totaling Rs 11 crore and Rs 35 crore have been spent on clinical trials on Covishield and Covaxin respectively. In the case of Covaxin, the intellectual property is shared by Bharat Biotech (BB) with the Indian Council for Medical Research and the National Institute of Virology.
“If a model of technology transfer and partnerships is followed, volumes could increase, lowering costs for the manufacturer,” an industry expert told TOI.
Until then, it is necessary that all vaccine prices be capped by including them on the national essential drugs list. “We have to keep in mind that Covaxin is a joint collaboration with the ICMR, and it is surprising that the government has no control over the exorbitantly priced vaccine. From ICMR’s initial funding for clinical trials to a huge sum paid to Bharat Biotech to improve manufacturing capacity, Covaxin enjoys full government support. In this context, nothing justifies this high price, ” said Amulya Nidhi of Jan Swasthya Abhiyan.
“The costs are not, but should be transparent, given that the government has invested in its development. The expectations and announcements that it would be cheaper than bottled water turned out to be cruel jokes. It is a vaccine based on old and well-known technology. If production costs were high, the vaccine should have been manufactured by PSUs. The current price suggests that BB is making an exorbitant profit, ” said Murali Neelakantan, senior lawyer at Amicus.
Also, there is a need for transparency in production costs, which does not exist in India. There appears to be a huge profit margin in the prices of private vaccines, said Leena Menghaney, a lawyer working in public health. In its recent order, the Supreme Court asked the government to provide details of the direct and indirect subsidies given for research, development and manufacture of all existing vaccines and future vaccines it proposes to authorize.