Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan on Monday said that India “may not need” the potential coronavirus vaccine being developed by drug manufacturer Pfizer, in collaboration with German partner BioNTech.
“United States has not even given licence to Pfizer,” Vardhan said in an interview to The Economic Times. “So it does not make sense for other countries like India to consider it. We are in touch with everyone but we feel that we may not need Pfizer vaccine.”
Vardhan said Pfizer does not have “linkages in India to manufacture the vaccine”, reported The Economic Times. He further pointed out that Pfizer would have to first fulfil the vaccine requirements in United States and other countries.
The health minister said that India has at least three vaccines in the advanced stages of trials and would be able to introduce them by February or March 2021.
The minister’s comments came even as Serum Institute of India Chief Executive Officer Adar Poonawalla said that 10 crore doses of Covishield, a coronavirus vaccine candidate, would be available by January. The company is in an agreement with drug manufacturer AstraZeneca to produce at least 1 billion or 100 crore doses. Earlier on Monday, AstraZeneca announced that its potential vaccine has shown an average efficiency of 70% among Covid-19 patients.
Experts have already raised concerns on whether the existing infrastructure in India would be able to handle the storage requirements of the Pfizer vaccine which needs to be kept at temperatures of minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 Fahrenheit) or below. On November 20, Pfizer applied for emergency US authorisation after final results from the late-stage trial of its vaccine showed it was 95% effective.
On being asked about the distribution of vaccines among states when they are available, Vardhan ruled out any preferential treatment.
“There will be equitable distribution of vaccine,” he said. “States are part of the national expert group...nobody will get the vaccine by pulling a favour.” He further said that the healthcare workers would be the first to get the vaccine.
In a separate interview to India Today, Vardhan said that the biggest factors determining the choice of a vaccine in the country would be its efficacy and safety. He expressed confidence on procuring a vaccine within the “first three months of 2021” and administering it to 30 crore people by September next year. He however, refused to comment on any particular company’s vaccine.
Meanwhile, during a video conference meeting with chief ministers on the coronavirus situation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday said states are required to establish cold storage facilities, reported ANI. He also urged states to send detailed plans on their plans for the vaccination process.
India has not signed a deal for a coronavirus vaccine yet so it is unclear when it will be available for use in the country. Availability of the vaccine in India will be subject to approval by domestic regulators, and the Indian government agreeing to purchase them. So far, many other nations including the United States, United Kingdom, the European Union, Australia and Israel have made deals to buy millions of doses of the vaccines.