Amid a political war of words between the Centre and the Delhi government over the availability of sufficient vaccines to inoculate all adults in the national capital, the central government on Thursday said it will provide all possible assistance to all companies willing to manufacture the vaccine to ramp up the supply. It, however, flagged the non-availability of a sophisticated laboratory with most vaccine makers that is necessary to produce the indigenously developed Covaxin jab.
The Centre also rejected Delhi government’s claim that Covaxin maker Bharat Biotech has refused to provide “additional" vaccine doses to the Delhi government, saying the national capital has received over 15 lakh doses of the vaccine and its role is to facilitate the states. On Tuesday, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia had alleged the Covaxin manufacturer in a letter said it cannot provide the Delhi government vaccines due to unavailability, under instruction of government officials concerned. “It means that the central government is controlling supply of the vaccine," Sisodia, who is a senior Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader, had said.
Addressing a briefing of the Union Health Ministry, Niti Aayog Member (Health), V K Paul said Government of India’s role is to facilitate. “We refute (the charge) that there is any pressure on anybody not to supply to any particular state," he said, adding that such charges affect the morale of vaccine manufacturers. “It is because of them that we are in the position of not asking others (countries for vaccines)," Paul said. He said Bharat Biotech is also ramping up its capacity and has already roped in three public sector undertakings.
Earlier, Delhi Chief Minister and AAP national convenor Arvind Kejriwal had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying the Centre should share the vaccine formula of Covaxin and Covishield with other capable pharmaceutical companies to scale up production in the country. On increasing production of Covaxin, Paul said Bharat Biotech has already welcomed the move of ramping up production of doses by involving other players. “They also reached out and under this initiative, our PSUs have been connected to this process," he said.
Last month, the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), under Mission COVID Suraksha, spelt out a plan to ramp up production of Covaxin and double it by May-June by roping in three public sector companies (PSUs). The PSUs are Haffkine Biopharmaceutical Corporation Ltd, Mumbai, a PSU under the Maharashtra government; Indian Immunologicals Limited (IIL), Hyderabad, a facility under National Dairy Development Board; and Bharat Immunologicals and Biologicals Limited, Bulandshahr, a PSU of the Department of Biotechnology, to increase the capacity of vaccine production.
“The current production capacity of indigenously developed Covaxin will be doubled by May-June 2021 and then increased nearly 6-7 fold by July-August 2021, i.e. increasing the production from 1 crore vaccine doses in April 2021 to 6-7 crore vaccine dose/month in JulyAugust. It is expected to reach nearly 10 crore doses per month by September 2021," the DBT had said. Reacting to this, Kejriwal on Thursday tweeted, “A very welcome step by central government. It will help in ramping up production." “I also urge the Centre to directly procure vaccines from foreign companies rather than each state bidding against each other in international market," he tweeted.
Giving details about Covaxin, Paul said that it is made by inactivating a live virus. “This happens only in the BSL3 (Biosafety Laboratory-3) laboratory which is very sophisticated. Such laboratories are mostly not there in other companies. It is not something that every company has. Those companies who want to do this, we give an open invitation and we have already reached out from our side to make it together," he said. “Still our request is, those who want to make this vaccine, the government will provide full assistance to ramp up the capacity," Paul said. During the briefing, Paul said that 75,000 Covaxin doses have been given to Delhi in May. “In January-May, 13,91,000 Covaxin doses were received by Delhi. The state has procured 1 lakh doses, while private (institutions) have got 20,000 doses," he said.
According to the vaccine bulletin issued by the Delhi government, the Centre has provided 13,91,000 doses of vaccine to the Delhi government and it has procured 1,50,000 doses from Bharat Biotech. So far, it has received 43,20,490 doses of Covishield and Covaxin. Following the allegations levelled by the Delhi government, Joint Secretary in the Union Health Ministry Lav Agarwal had denied that the Centre had any role to play in the purchase of vaccines by states. Bharat Biotech on Wednesday had said it is quite disheartening to listen to some states complaining about the company’s intentions regarding supply of Covaxin.
(With PTI inputs)