The Centre has said it does not agree with the Rs 80,000 crore figure quoted by Adar Poonawalla, CEO of Serum Institute of India (SII), the pharma giant which is conducting coronavirus vaccine trials ahead of mass production of vaccines in the country. The Union Health Ministry has claimed that it has adequate funds for the COVID-19 vaccine.
The clarification came from Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan when he was asked for a response about Poonawalla's tweet highlighting issues in vaccine production and distribution in India. Bhushan was addressing the media on Tuesday, September 29.
Poonawalla had on September 26 tweeted that the government would need "Rs 80,000 crore over the next one year to buy and distribute COVID-19 vaccines to everyone in India and this is going to be the next challenge the country needs to tackle." The SII CEO had also tagged the Prime Minister's Office's (PMO) official Twitter handle in his tweet.
When the media cited this post by Poonawalla and asked for the government's response to it, the health secretary answered, "The person who tweeted it also clarified the next day. As far as we are concerned, we do not agree with the calculation of Rs 80,000 crore".
He added that the government has constituted a "National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration" which has held five meetings so far. Bhushan further stated that during these meetings, they "have mulled over the process of COVID-19 vaccine distribution and the amount required for it in terms of prioritisation of population and the staggered immunisation for this prioritisation." "In the meetings, we have calculated the amount required and currently, that amount is available with the government," he added.
Following Poonawalla's tweet questioning the Centre's vaccine funds, Ashwani Mahajan, the national co-convener of Swadesh Jagran Manch, affiliated to the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), had taken to Twitter and said that the Poonawalla could be "forced to produce vaccine free from exploitative royalty."
"May it be knowon to you @adarpoonawalla that India's Patent Act has a section on Compulsory Licensing and we can force you and your peers to produce vaccine free from exploitative royalty," Mahajan had posted on Twitter.
Soon after his tweet, Poonawalla took to Twitter to laud Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his speech at the UN (United Nations) General Assembly, on coronavirus vaccines and the Centre's "arrangements".
"We share and applaud your vision @narendramodi ji, on providing vaccines to the global community. It is a proud moment for India, thank you for your leadership and support. It is clear that all your arrangements for India will take care of all needs for the Indian people," he had tweeted.
Meanwhile, the Centre is yet to announce any plans to purchase vaccines from companies producing them. Presently, there are four vaccine candidates in late-stage trials in the country.