For breaking news and live news updates, Join us on Whatsapp
The shortage in Delhi at present is not of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds or oxygen supply but of coronavirus vaccines, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said on Tuesday, urging the Centre to engage more pharmaceutical companies to ramp up production.
Kejriwal called for a national scheme to vaccinate the entire population of the country in the next few months and said that “unless every Indian is vaccinated, we cannot win the war against Covid-19”.
“Some states are struggling to widen the vaccine drive because of this shortage. Vaccine shortage is a major challenge now,” he said at a press briefing.
According to the chief minister, the two companies producing vaccines in India are capable of manufacturing 60-70 million doses a month, and at this rate, it would take over two years to vaccinate the country’s entire population. “Such a long span is likely to witness multiple waves, which would lead to more deaths. So, it is important to take up vaccine production on a war footing.”
In an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court, the Union government over the weekend said it expects 85 million doses to be manufactured by Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech, the makers of the two doses approved in India in January. Both these firms are expected to take their cumulative capacities to over 150 million by July.
Kejriwal separately wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and called for ensuring the mass production of vaccines.
Also read | States can procure only 20 million Covid-19 jabs for 18+ in May
“The second wave of Covid is very fatal and the disease has reached the villages with many lives lost… There is a need to vaccinate all the citizens as soon as possible… Presently only two companies are manufacturing vaccines in India. Providing vaccines to the whole country through two companies only is not possible,” said Kejriwal in his letter to Modi, a copy of which HT has seen.
“Every company in the country that has the capacity of safe production should manufacture the vaccines… The government can terminate the monopoly on vaccine production through the Patent law…”
In its health bulletin on Tuesday, the Delhi government said around 4.02 million vaccine doses were administered till Monday — of which 3.11 million were first doses.
Pune-based Serum Institute of India produces Covishield and Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech Covaxin.
At the briefing, Kejriwal said the Centre should take the vaccine formula from the two companies and give it to the other companies which are capable of producing safe vaccines. “In such tough times, the Centre has the powers to take such decisions…,” said Kejriwal.
Kejriwal said the vaccination turnout is high and all arrangements are in place and that they were currently administering 125,000 doses per day. “…we want to scale this up to 300,000 doses per day. Our aim is to ensure that the entire adult population of Delhi is vaccinated in three months. But, in Delhi, we have only a few days stock of vaccines left.”
He cited the shortage of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) kits during the first wave of the pandemic in India. “Imagine if only two companies had the right to produce PPE kits, we would have faced a major shortage of PPE kits too…”
Kejriwal said India has top pharma companies and the best scientists. “I am sure that they will cooperate in vaccine production. A fraction of the profit made by the other companies could be given to the original two companies as royalty…”
In a tweet, former Union health secretary Sujatha Rao asked why the government was not invoking its powers to speed up production. “Provision of compulsory licensing was exactly for these conditions. Imposing it can help us and increase production. Why is the health of the pharma industry more important than of the people, someone explain?”
Compulsory licensing allows the government to grant permission to other manufacturers to start making a patented product without permission from the company holding the patent, although pharma company executives said that intellectual property issues are not the main hurdle with vaccine production — companies need to transfer technology, source the adequate raw material and include training that is consistent with the production of a particular vaccine