The Centre on Thursday said that it has been in talks with foreign manufacturers of coronavirus vaccine like Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna since “mid-2020” and has offered them all assistance for supply and manufacture of their shots in India.

In a statement issued by Niti Aayog (Health) member VK Paul, the Centre, however indicated that the vaccines produced by these manufacturers were not readily available due to shortage of supply.

“It is not that their vaccines are available in free supply,” the statement noted. “We need to understand that buying vaccines internationally is not similar to buying “off the shelf” items. Vaccines are in limited supply globally, and companies have their own priorities, game-plans and compulsions in allocating finite stocks.”

The Centre’s statement came amid criticism from various entities that the government was delaying the process of granting authorisation to foreign-made vaccines and procuring them for use in India. So far, the Centre has approved only three vaccines – Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, Serum Institute of India’s Covishield and Sputnik V, developed by the Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute.

Earlier this week, top virologist Gagandeep Kang said India was “late to the table” in buying coronavirus vaccines in the bulk from the international market and was now left with few options to choose from. Amid shortages of vaccines in many parts of the country, Opposition leaders and chief ministers of several states have urged the Centre to buy vaccines from other manufacturers too. Their demand grew stronger as vaccine developers, including Pfizer and Moderna, refused to deal with state government directly after they floated global tenders.

However, the Centre on Thursday sought to assert that it was doing enough to buy vaccines from abroad. “As soon as Pfizer indicated vaccine availability, central government and the company are working together for the earliest possible import of the vaccine,” the Niti Aayog release stated. It also pointed out that India has already received two tranches of the Sputnik V vaccine.

Pfizer, this week, sought fast-track approval for its vaccine and is in talks with the Centre to roll out five crore doses between July and October this year. Pfizer was the first company to seek emergency use authorisation for its vaccine in India late last year. But the company withdrew its application in February after the drugs regulator asked for a local safety study for the vaccine.

The Niti Aayog also said that in order to ease the approval process of vaccines in India, the central government has allowed entry of shots that have been given the nod by regulatory bodies of the United States, United Kingdom, European Union, Japan and the World Health Organisation.