Covishield is the most affordable COVID-19 vaccine available in the market today, Adar Poonawalla, CEO of Serum Institute of India, said in response to the criticism overpricing of the jab made by his company. He said the Covishield price has been determined to ensure sustainability so that when the need arises, there are funds at hand to invest in scaling up and expanding production capacity.
Serum Institute, the largest vaccine manufacturer in the world by volume, is manufacturing the COVID-19 vaccine jointly developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca for supply across the world. In India, this jab is being sold under the name Covishield.
In the initial phases of India's vaccination drive, Serum Institute was providing Covishield to the central government at Rs 150 per dose. Before the third phase of the programme begins on May 1, the vaccine manufacturer has announced that it will supply the shot at Rs 400 per dose to state governments and Rs 600 per dose to private hospitals.
Addressing the public scepticism over the pricing policy, Poonawalla said there was an inaccurate comparison between global prices of the vaccine with India, adding that Covishield is the cheapest COVID-19 vaccine available today.
"Government procurement for countrywide immunisation programs in all countries including India has been at a far lower price as the volumes are very large. For instance, based on the market conditions, prices of many vaccines in the private market including our pneumococcal vaccine are sold at a higher free-economy price, whereas for the government it is almost one-third of the free market price," the Serum CEO said.
"Furthermore, there was an inaccurate comparison done between the global prices of the vaccine with India. Covishield is the most affordable COVID-19 vaccine available in the market today. The initial prices were kept very low globally as it was based on advance funding given by those countries for at-risk vaccine manufacturing. The initial supply price of Covishield for all government immunisation programmes, including India, has been the lowest," he further added.
Noting that the current situation is "extremely dire" as the virus is constantly mutating, Poonawalla said that his company has "to ensure sustainability as we must be able to invest in scaling up and expanding our capacity" in the face of this uncertainty.
The Serum CEO further argued that a limited portion of Covishield stocks will be sold to private hospitals at Rs 600 per dose, which is four times the price the company is charging from the Centre at Rs 150 per dose. "The price of the vaccine is still lower than a lot of other medical treatment and essentials required to treat COVID-19 and other life-threatening diseases," Poonawalla claimed.
"Furthermore, in the interest of public health, it is important for the market to open up for other vaccines from across the world. This will accelerate and advance the immunisation programme of our country," he further said.
Earlier today, the Centre has said that it will continue to procure the vaccine for Rs 150 only. It added that the vaccine that will be procured by the Centre will be given to states for free.
(Edited by Vivek Punj)