The Serum Institute of India (SII) on Saturday responded to criticism over the latest price of its Covid-19 vaccine, Covishield, for state governments and private hospitals, saying the initial rates were kept very low globally as they were based on advance funding given by those countries for at-risk vaccine manufacturing.
The world's largest vaccine manufacturer explained that government procurement for the immunisation programmes in all countries, including India, has been at a far lower price as the volumes are very large. "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 immunization programme, including India, has been the lowest," the Pune-based SII said in a statement assuring transparency.
SII's statement comes against the backdrop of flak it faced after it notified on Wednesday that it will sell one jab of this two-dose vaccine for ₹600 to private facilities and ₹400 to state governments as the country preps for the third phase of vaccination from May 1. The pharmaceutical company's CEO Adar Poonawalla later said for new contracts, the Centre will also have to pay ₹400 for each dose of Covishield, like state and UT governments, according to reports. However, the Union health ministry earlier on Saturday issued a clarification saying that the Centre will procure both the vaccines at Rs150 and those doses will be provided free to the states.
Pointing to the seriousness of the situation during the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic and the firm's need to ensure sustainability, SII said, "The current situation is extremely dire; the virus is constantly mutating while the public remains at risk. Identifying the uncertainty, we have to ensure sustainability as we must be able to invest in scaling up and expanding our capacity to fight the pandemic and save lives."
The Pune-based firm added that only a limited portion of SII's volume will be sold to private hospitals at ₹600 per dose and assured that the cost 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.
As the country battles the second wave of infections, Adar Poonawalla suggested it is important for the market to open up for other vaccines from across the world. "This will accelerate and advance the immunization program of our country," he said in the statement.
SII's Covishield, which has been developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca, and Bharat Biotech's Covaxin are being used in the government's massive vaccination drive in a race against the pandemic, which affected millions across the country.