Kamal Pratap Singh
Pfizer eyes $26B in COVID-19 vaccine sales for the year 2021, with $3.5B (360 crore Rs) already in the bag. Moderna has predicted output of up to 1 billion doses this year. Adar Poonawalla on May 1 announced that the Serum Institute would be able to raise its monthly output to 100 million (10 crore) doses by July. India approved Russian made Sputnik V also, and is also planning to approve vaccines made by Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and others.
The finance ministry approved ₹3,000 crore for Pune-based SII which is manufacturing the AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine Covishield but granted ₹1567.50 crores to Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech for boosting the production of indigenous Covaxin.
India recently set the milestone of vaccinating more than 180 million (18 crore) people.
Centre’s statement that India will produce over 216 crore vaccine doses between August and December represents an ambitious scaling up of manufacturing capacity of India. Current workhorses Covishield and Covaxin will yield 75 crore and 55 crore doses respectively (around 50%), while others including Sputnik V and vaccines under trial from Novavax, Zydus Cadila, Biological E and Bharat Biotech’s nasal vaccine will contribute the rest.
COVAXIN®, India’s only indigenous COVID-19 vaccine by Bharat Biotech is developed in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) – National Institute of Virology (NIV). The indigenous, inactivated vaccine is developed and manufactured in Bharat Biotech’s BSL-3 (Bio-Safety Level 3) high containment facility. The vaccine is developed using Whole-Virion Inactivated Vero Cell derived platform technology. Inactivated vaccines do not replicate and are therefore unlikely to revert and cause pathological effects. They contain dead virus, incapable of infecting people but still able to instruct the immune system to mount a defensive reaction against an infection.
Conventionally, inactivated vaccines have been around for decades and are found safest. Numerous vaccines for diseases such as Seasonal Influenza, Polio, Pertussis, Rabies, and Japanese Encephalitis use the same technology to develop inactivated vaccines with a safe track record. It is thus the well-established, and time-tested platform in the world of vaccine technology.
“Manufacturing scale-up has been carried out in a stepwise manner across multiple facilities in Hyderabad and Bengaluru but still it is limited to 700 million (70 crore) doses…,” said the company on April 20th, 2021, which had in January pegged the capacity at 200 million doses a year. Bharat Biotech CMD Krishna Ella at an event in April 2021 said that the company will produce 30 million (3 crore) doses of Covaxin next month (May) against around 20 million (2 crore) doses this month (April) and 15 million in the last month (March). He said that the company expects to reach a production capacity of up to 700 million doses per annum by July-August 2022.
The Union health ministry said the government has paid an advance of ₹1,699.50 crore, after deducting tax at source, to Serum Institute for 110 million (11 crore) doses of Covishield, as well as ₹772.50 crore to Bharat Biotech for 50 million (5 crore) doses of Covaxin. Both payments were made on 28 April.
On May 10, union aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri has said advance orders for May, June and July have been placed. Puri said the central government has placed advance orders with SII, buying 5.6 crore vaccines worth Rs 1,176 crore through PM Care fund. To Bharat Biotech, he said the Centre has placed orders for 1 crore vaccines worth Rs 216.83 crore through PM Cares; and 5 crore doses on April 22 and 2 crore on May 10 by the health ministry.
Cumulatively, Indian vaccine manufacturers, including SII, Bharat Biotech, Panacea Biotech, Sanofi’s Shanta Biotech, Biological E, Hester Biosciences and Zydus Cadila, have an installed capacity to manufacture 8.2 billion doses of different vaccines per year out of which companies have already planned to give 5.4 billion covid vaccine doses in a year.
If required, total vaccine production capacity can be tweaked to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines. Besides vaccinating every citizen of the country, it can be used to supply vaccines to other countries of the world.
Points to consider while deciding manufacturing and expansion capacities of Bharat Biotech
– Only COVAXIN is indigenous and safe vaccine which has been developed in India
– Bharat Biotech has world class manufacturing expertise approved by USFDA, KFDA and WHO
– Demonstrating capabilities of world’s first: Eco-friendly recombinant Hepatitis-B vaccine (free of cesium chloride and Thiomersal), Rotavirus vaccine from a naturally attenuated strain and Typhoid Conjugate vaccine.
– Among the first in India to develop vaccines for viral diseases like Chikungunya and Zika.
– Bharat Biotech produces largest number of different kind of vaccines.
– Pfizer, the largest contender of COVID-19 vaccine has very stringent storage conditions which can result in unnecessary loss of doses.
– It is effective against emerging mutants.
Recently, the Centre has provided financial assistance in the form of grant of Rs 220 crore to vaccine manufacturers to boost the production of Bharat Biotech’s COVID-19 vaccine Covaxin, and its production is expected to reach more than 10 crore doses per month by September this year (Table).
Bharat Biotech is perfect candidate for Atma Nirbhar Bharat vaccine production which has ramp-up production to 500 million (50 crore) doses a year. US’s Pfizer has expected to produce 3 billion vaccines but it can be beaten up if 10 such facilities of Bharat Biotech being built up by govt through a more robust investment in the future indigenous vaccine industry of India. As we calculated it will bring more than 3 billion doses which otherwise a target of Pfizer and at the same time we can vaccinate the whole world with a safe and cost effective COVAXIN through FDA, EU, WHO, CEPI, GAVI, COVAX and other alliances.