The Serum Institute of India (SII), which has partnered with Oxford University and AstraZeneca to manufacture the COVID-19 vaccine in the country, is likely to begin selling its Covidshield in the open market from March to April next year in the wake of high demand from big companies which want to purchase the vaccines in bulk for their employees.
The initial supply (in the private market) will cater to bulk orders, following which it will be available to individuals as well.
Serum Institute's chief executive officer, Adar Poonawalla, has confirmed that the company's coronavirus vaccine will enter the open market post-March to April 2021 if the vaccine is found to be "immunogenic and safe," reported the Economic Times.
Currently, the Pune-based company is in the process of applying for emergency use authorisation (EUA) for its coronavirus vaccine, which is undergoing phase- 3 human clinical trials.
Poonawalla had said last month that if things go according to plan, the coronavirus vaccine will be available for vulnerable populations by January or February 2021. He also informed that the vaccine will be sold for around Rs 500-600 to the general public, and for the government, it will probably be around $3-4 (Rs 220).
Meanwhile, several large industries and corporate houses have evinced interest in carrying out vaccinations for their employees, sources told the daily. Additionally, other vaccine manufacturers are also anticipating a huge demand for their shots from private organisations when they are ready for launch.
In terms of vaccine distribution, some experts believe that if companies buy the jabs in bulk, there will be no disruption in supply. However, critics have warned that premature access to private organisations should not be allowed. According to them, the government should lay down guidelines for private sector procurement.
It must be noted that the government is exploring the modalities of emergency authorisation and usage of anti-coronavirus vaccines pending completion of phase-three clinical trials and regular licensure.
Recently, NITI Aayog Member (Health) Vinod Paul recently discussed the issue of advance purchase commitment for vaccines, including pricing. In the meeting, it was decided that the PMO-constituted Vaccine Task Force (VTF) will lay down the principles for emergency use authorisation, while the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 (NEGVAC) should take the lead in setting the principles for advance market commitment, including vaccine pricing.
Serum Institute is currently embroiled in a controversy over its vaccine trial. The company slapped a Rs 100 crore defamation case against a vaccine volunteer, who allegedly reported 'memory loss, ability to reason and concentrate and personality change' 10 days after being administered a shot.
Experts said the Serum Institute should have engaged with its coronavirus vaccine volunteer to understand his concerns if there was an issue with a serious adverse event.
"A bad move by Serum to counter-sue. Volunteers participate in studies mostly out for altruistic reasons. In this case, healthy volunteers. If there is an issue with a serious adverse event, better to engage with the participant to understand their concerns. Rather than try to browbeat them," Bioethics expert Professor Anant Bhan said on Twitter.