With the Centre decentralising and liberalising their vaccination policy, more than 10 states have decided to float global tenders for foreign Covid jabs to vaccinate its population in the 18-44 age group. That is the category the policy says the Centre will not cover under its free vaccination programme, so the burden of inoculating them for free is on the states. Global shopping began because domestic manufacturers Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech are struggling to meet even the needs of the 45+ group that the Centre is committed to funding for vaccination. The 45+ is the priority group since 85% of all Covid deaths during the first wave happened in that section of the population. But the question is which foreign manufacturer other than Russia’s Sputnik V is prepared to sell at short notice, given the huge back orders they already have from the global North. The Centre, in its recent affidavit, told the Supreme Court that it is in active discussions with Pfizer, Moderna, J&J and other vaccine developers/manufacturers outside India to facilitate imports. But it qualified its statement by saying “if these efforts are successful”, the pace of vaccination can go up. That is a big ‘if’. Besides, countries like the US have just opened up vaccination for their adolescents, so their requirement will only go up, leaving little room for their pharma majors to export their jabs in the short run.
Union Minister Piyush Goyal on Wednesday sought a quick consensus at the World Trade Organization on patent waiver, transfer of technology and making raw materials for vaccines available to scale up global production. Instead of waiting for the WTO negotiations to conclude, why can’t India widely share the technology and the knowhow of Covaxin—the only indigenously developed vaccine by the Centre in collaboration with Bharat Biotech—within the country so as to scale up production? Deals to manufacture Covaxin have already been done with three Indian companies, but why restrict it to them and not expand the ambit to whichever domestic manufacturer is ready to pitch in? That could be a new model on internal patent waiver to meet the pandemic demand of the global South in what we proudly call the pharmacy of the world.