The central government has asked Bharat Biotech and Serum Institute of India to lower the prices for their respective coronavirus vaccines, reported news agency PTI. The move comes days ahead of the third phase of India's COVID-19 vaccination programme in the backdrop of criticism from several states over prices of Covaxin and Covishield, alleging the manufacturers were prioritising profiteering in times of pandemic.
Now the companies are expected to announce new prices for their vaccines before May 1.
India is set to enter the third phase of its vaccination drive against coronavirus on May 1, which aims to open the programme for a wider population. Under this phase, vaccine manufacturers have been asked to supply half of their COVID-19 vaccine stocks to the Centre, and the other half to state governments and private hospitals, at a pre-determined rate that was to be announced before May 1.
Meanwhile, the vaccination programme at Centre's level will continue as before.
In accordance to the policy for third vaccination phase, Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech and Pune-based Serum Institute of India had announced their prices for states and private players last week. Serum Institute had said that it will offer its vaccine, Covishield, to state governments at Rs 400 per dose and to private hospitals at Rs 600 per dose. Meanwhile, Bharat Biotech had pegged prices for its vaccine, Covaxin, at Rs 600 per dose for state government, Rs 1,200 for private hospitals, and $15-20 for export.
Both vaccines are the only ones currently being used in India's coronavirus vaccination drive and are available to the central government at Rs 150 per dose. The Centre has also offered to acquire the vaccine from the manufacturers at Rs 150 and supply it to states for free.
Several states, already reeling under loss of revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic, had criticised the steep price rise. Criticising the move, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had said this is not the time for profiteering. He had urged the companies to supply the vaccine at Rs 150 per dose across the board.
Congress had blamed the central government for allowing the vaccine makers to rake in profits, and termed its vaccine policy as 'discriminatory and insensitive'.
Announcing the prices for Covaxin in the third phase, Bharat Biotech's Chairman and Managing Director Krishna Ella had said, "Recovering costs is essential in the journey of innovation towards other vaccines such as intranasal COVID-19, chikungunya, zika, cholera and others. Our core mission for the last 25 years has been to provide affordable yet world-class healthcare solutions for the globe."
Meanwhile, Serum Institute's CEO Adar Poonawalla had defended the prices for Covishield on grounds that it is still the cheapest COVID-19 vaccine available in the market and that only a small portion will be sold to private hospitals at the upper price limit of Rs 600 per dose.
(Edited by Vivek Punj)