The Centre on Thursday said biotechnology firm Bharat Biotech was willing to invite other companies to produce its coronavirus vaccine, Covaxin, PTI reported. While addressing a press conference, Niti Aayog Member (Health) VK Paul said the central government will provide all possible assistance to companies willing to manufacture the vaccine to ramp up its supply.

“People say that Covaxin should be given to other companies for manufacturing,” Paul said, according to NDTV. “I am happy to say that Covaxin manufacturing company has welcomed this when we discussed it with them.”

Paul, however, added that most vaccine makers in the country do not have sophisticated laboratories to produce the vaccine. “Under this vaccine, a live virus is inactivated and this is done only in BSL3 [Biosafety Level 3] labs,” Paul said. “Not every company has this. We give an open invitation to companies who want to do this.”

The announcement came after several leaders, including Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his Andhra Pradesh counterpart YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, wrote to the prime minister asking the Centre to facilitate the transfer of technology of producing Covaxin to other companies.

Earlier this month, Indian Council of Medical Research Director-General Balram Bhargava had said intellectual property rights for the use of Covaxin was shared between Bharat Biotech and the research body.

More recently, on Tuesday, Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia claimed that Bharat Biotech had refused to supply additional doses to the national Capital, saying the company was making dispatches “as per the directives of concerned officials”. Sisodia had said the company’s statement had made it clear that the officials it referred to were central government ones.

On Thursday, Paul denied that the Centre had a role to play in the vaccine procurement process. He added that Bharat Biotech was ramping up its capacity to manufacture vaccines and had already roped in three public sector undertakings.

“We refute that there is any pressure on anybody not to supply to any particular state,” Paul said, adding that such charges affect the morale of vaccine manufacturers.

Last month, the Department of Biotechnology had spelt out a plan to ramp up production of Covaxin and double it by May-June by roping in three public sector companies. Mumbai’s Haffkine Biopharmaceutical Corporation, Hyderabad-based Indian Immunologicals Limited, and Bharat Immunologicals and Biologicals Limited in Bulandshahr, Uttar Pradesh, have been roped in to increase the capacity of vaccine production, according to PTI.

Over 200 crore vaccine shots to be available by year-end

Paul also said that 216 crore doses of the vaccine will be available in India in the next five months and the number is likely to go up to 300 crore by the first quarter of next year, NDTV reported.

The 200 crore doses would include 75 crore of Covishield and 55 crore of Covaxin, Paul said, adding that Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine is likely to be available in the market from next week.

“There should be no doubt that vaccine will be available for all as we move forward,” the NITI Aayog member said. “Any vaccine that is approved by FDA [the US’ Food and Drug Administration] and WHO [World Health Organization] can come to India. Import license will be granted within 1-2 days. No import license is pending.”

The Centre’s assurance on availability of vaccines came amid shortages in supply in several parts of the country. The shortage has been exacerbated since all adults became eligible for shots in third phase of inoculation since May 1. Nearly 60 crore citizens belong to the age group of 18-45, who are to be vaccinated besides the pending second dose for a large section of the priority groups.

Due to the huge vaccine shortage, at least eight states have decided to float global tenders for procuring doses from international markets, while Punjab has announced that it will join the United Nations-backed COVAX initiative to get its supplies.