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Serum Institute looking at bilateral deals to supply Covishield vaccine

As India outshines China with its friendly neighbourhood vaccine diplomacy, the world’s largest vaccine maker — Serum Institute of India (SII) — is girding itself for bilateral deals to supply to low- and medium-income countries.

The Pune-based biotechnology company will increase capacity to manufacture the Oxford-AstraZeneca-developed Covishield vaccine by 30 per cent by March, from the current daily levels of 2.4 million doses.

The firm has entered into a deal with Bangladesh. The neighbouring nation has so far purchased 30 million doses from SII through a private player – Beximco Pharmaceuticals.

“Supplies of Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, too, will begin soon. Once the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) pre-qualification comes in, supplies to low- and medium-income countries will pick up,” said a source in the know.

Meanwhile, India has been shipping Covishield to different countries as a goodwill gesture. “These are doses the government had purchased from the vaccine makers,” added a source.

The Centre has bought 11 million doses of Covishield from SII and 5.5 million doses of Covaxin from Bharat Biotech.

chartSII had 100 million doses ready (of which 50 million were packaged). It can now roll out 60-70 million doses per month, but is not using its full capacity yet. By March, a third plant will become functional. This will raise vaccine manufacturing capacity by 30 per cent.

It has supplied 11 million doses to India. It will supply another 45 million in the next few months. It is also set to begin supplies on behalf of AstraZeneca, but is awaiting WHO pre-qualification before it starts its bilateral supplies to low- and medium-income nations.

While the price of Covishield has been fixed at Rs 200 per dose, Covaxin is Rs 295 per dose. However, Bharat Biotech has given 1.65 million doses free to the government, effectively bringing down the cost to Rs 206 per dose.

“No renegotiation is happening on vaccine prices with the government now. If the government chooses to ship them to other countries as part of its diplomatic relations, it is really a decision of the Centre,” clarified a vaccine maker.

SII has assures that the first 100 million doses of Covishield will cost Rs 200 per dose.

India is shipping millions of doses of the vaccine to Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives, Myanmar, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, etc.

Meanwhile, SII is also readying to ship to Saudi Arabia (3 million doses) and South Africa (1.5 million doses) on behalf of AstraZeneca. It is not yet shipping to Europe after AstraZeneca faced supply constraints due to production bottlenecks. Brazil has also been supplied 2 million doses. They are priced at $5 per shot. -Business Standard

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