Vaccine Imperialism

SII–a Comprador has no Freedom


AZ vax, Covishield, unlike Covaxin, is not indigenous as made out, as misrepresented by Swadeshi lobby led by Modi. It is a product of Swedish Astra plus UK Zeneca, MNC, a pharma-biotech major with Hq in UK. It is developed by AZ in tech coop with Oxford Univesity. Serum India Inst of Pune is a Make in India subsidiary for AZ vax, which is not indigenous strictly speaking. That is how AZ vax made in US facilities is not being allowed to be exported, as seen in NYT report above: Hegemonist US does not allow even the UK-Swedish MNC, a product by its Nato-ally, (mis-)using a Defence law! That is how transactions are stifled by so-called Rule-based international regimen about which QUAD brags, and yes-man subserves, blaming China.

AZ being not strictly Indian, till 19 March, India sent out 5.96 crore doses of vaccine to foreign nations, which is almost 50 per cent more than its domestic consumption. Of these, 3.41 crore are commercial exports. After March 24, exports were stalled as pressure built up within India.

The dependence plight of SII, AZ manufacturers, a legal notice by the master, is explained by none other than its CEO. In an interview of April 14, 2021, he explained (see extract below):

'I don't think anybody would want to be in my position today where every head of State has to be explained that I am prioritising my country because there is a surge in cases.'

The Serum Institute of India (SII), the world's largest vaccine maker, is juggling between meeting demands in its own country and its international commitments.

SII CEO Adar Poonawalla, in an interview, April 14, 2021, to Sohini Das of Business Standard, says that AstraZeneca has served a legal notice to the firm for delays in supplying the vaccine, and that SII has sought "a few thousand crores" as grant from the government to double the production of Covishield.

Is shortage of raw materials coming in the way of scaling up production?

Yes, it is happening because the US has invoked the Defence Act and banned export of raw materials. This is as good as banning vaccines. All vaccine producers are facing difficulties because of this.

It has already stalled the Novavax vaccine's production. Stock-piling of Novavax would happen to the tune of 50 per cent more if we had access to US raw materials.

Till the month of April, it was not really coming in the way. From this month onwards, whatever we stockpile of Novavax would be half of what we could do, had it not been for US restrictions.

There is a long list of raw materials which we import from the US -- filters, bags, certain media solutions, etc. To develop new suppliers in the eleventh hour will take a bit of time.

We will do that. We will not be dependent on the US after six months. The problem is we need now. (Great power India could not make such things? Swadeshi is so bankrupt …seven years after the Modi arrival.)

India the comprador is helpless… Dr. Soma Marla wrote in CC on April 20, 2021:

"Two Indian vaccine manufacturers are producing nearly 60 million doses a month. The daily production of 20 lakh doses against the administered 36 lakh doses is the prime reason for current vaccine short fall seen across the nation. In February this year US administration has imposed export restrictions on supply of 37 essential chemical ingredients apart from special pumps and other filtration equipment to other countries. The invoked defence production act is aimed at helping American pharmaceutical industry to increase domestic vaccine production. The fact is, USA was proactive and already vaccinated nearly 25 percent of it's adult population ahead of many other developed Western nations. Besides, USA has stockpiled sufficient stocks to vaccinate entire population."

"These past 73 years, Government of India has been supplying drugs and vaccines for infectious diseases under the National Program to the states. This is the first time I am seeing, and at such a critical time, central government abdicating its responsibility and leaving the states to buy their own vaccines at a price to be determined by the suppliers and at a price to be fixed by the companies! Never heard of anything more preposterous than that."

That was what Former Union Health Secretary Mrs. K Sujata Rao said and cautioned "this liberalised  vaccine policy will raise more questions than it answers. Interstate infectious disease control is on the concurrent list and so is a shared responsibility," she said in emailed remarks to Bloomberg Quint, April 22 2021.

Government can order, it has all the powers, more so under conditions of a medical emergency of a pandemic, but did not act till now. Modi instead is all praise for "innovation and enterprise" of the private sector. Contrast this to Modi regime's response to farmers' movement.

By permitting the participation of states and the private sector in procurement and delivery of vaccines, has the central government made way for an acceleration of the Covid-19 national vaccination programme or has it simply passed on the burden to states, private entities and citizens? she asked.

The former Health secretary, while endorsing their use, candidly mentioned the dubious and limited value of these vaccines as of now: They do not prevent, nor cure the infection. They are supposed to provide protection by reducing severity, and almost eliminating mortality. When does the protection kick in? Not sure. How long does the protection last? An year, or more, or six months only? Not yet established, as permissions were given under emergency conditions. But with all that, they could dictate their price and profits, with deleterious effects on the people and the country, more so in months to come.

R Ramakumar, a Professor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai commented, in an article, in Apr 20,2021 :

"The Union government's decision to deregulate vaccine prices in the midst of the pandemic is a generous gift to private vaccine companies. This gift is in addition to the Union government's decision to provide new credit lines of Rs 3,000 crore to the Serum Institute of India and Rs 1,500 crore to the Bharat Biotech to help them expand capacities. Both companies are also likely to be among the recipients of the Union government's research and development grants worth Rs 900 crore under the Covid Suraksha Mission.

"Regardless of such generosity, the vaccine producers insisted on their right to make super profits, and the Union government has succumbed to the pressure."

However, more importantly, the Union government also announced a series of new measures that would essentially liberalise vaccine sales and deregulate vaccine prices.

There is genuine fear that these new guidelines will make vaccines unaffordable and exclude millions of India's poor from access to vaccines.

Until now, the Union government has been supplying vaccines to states free of cost. The Serum Institute, which produces a vaccine named Covishield, and Bharat Biotech, which makes Covaxin, were selling their products to the Union government at subsidised prices.

Excluding taxes, Covishield was sold at Rs 150 per dose while Covaxin was sold at Rs 206 per dose.

However, both these companies were unhappy at being asked by the Union government to sell at these subsidised prices. They and other industry bodies were lobbying for the price ceiling to be removed and for the freedom to sell vaccines in the open market.

It should be noted that even the subsidised price of Covishield and Covaxin provided a normal profit per dose to both firms. Serum Institute CEO Adar Poonawalla confirmed this in an interview to NDTV on April 6.

"Is it still profitable today, on a per dose basis? Yes, absolutely," he said. "…I would not say we are not making any profits, but we have sacrificed what we call super profits."

He added that the Serum Institute would be content with normal profits only for "a temporary period". On super profits, he said, "We can always make those profits after a few months."

It was not months, but only after a few weeks that he would get what he wanted. Not exactly succumbing to pressures, as Ram Kumar suggested.

Modi is more than willing to reward them, after all he is at their service, as he praised : "Our private sector has set an exemplary example of innovation and enterprise in developing COVID-19 vaccines."

The liberalised price will vary from brand to brand, from state to state, and for Government and private sectors, and for different age groups. Even as the Modi regime makes claims about its policy to promote generics, the Vax is thrown into a mode where private manufacturers, suppliers, and corporate sector hospitals will mint huge, unregulated profits.

SII CEO Adar Poonawalla had said back in January that the price in the private market of Covishield will be Rs 1,000 per dose, translating to Rs 2,000 for both doses.

Russia's Sputnik V, to be distributed in India by Dr Reddy's, is reported to be imported by May-end or early June. For its price in India, Dr Reddy's co-chairman GV Prasad said it will continue to be the same as Sputnik's global price $10 (Rs 750) per dose, or roughly Rs 1,500 for both doses.


Back to Home Page

Vol. 53, No. 46, May 16 - 22, 2021