Bharat Biotech drops Covaxin price from Rs.600 to Rs.400 a dose for State governments, no change in the price of Rs. 1,200 a dose for private hospitals

Published : April 29, 2021 21:16 IST

A medical worker preparing to administer a dose of Covaxin at a health centre in New Delhi on April 29. Photo: TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP

Bharat Biotech, the Hyderabad-based pharmaceutical company that manufactures the indigenously developed COVID-19 vaccine Covaxin, announced a sharp downward revision in the price for State governments on April 29. Covaxin will now cost Rs.400 a dose for State governments, down from Rs.600 for a dose announced earlier after the Centre, in a surprising move, deregulated the vaccine market and allowed manufacturers the freedom to fix the price for 50 per cent of what they produced.

However, the company has not revised the price fixed earlier for private hospitals, which remains at Rs.1,200 a dose. The company intends to sell Covaxin in the international market, too, at the earlier fixed rate of $15 to $20 a dose (Rs.1,125-1,500).

Bharat Biotech, one of only two companies whose vaccines are presently allowed in India, faced a barrage of criticism over its multiple pricing policy. The reduction in Covaxin’s price for States comes a day after the Serum Institute of India (SII) announced a 25 per cent reduction in the price of their Covishield vaccine, from Rs.400 to Rs.300 a dose. Adar Poonawalla, SII’s Chief Executive Officer, called the reduction in pricing a “philanthropic gesture”.

Of the 14,91,43,616 crore COVID-19 vaccinations administered until 8 p.m. on April 29, Covaxin accounted for 1,39,09,069 doses while Covishield accounted for 13,52,34,547 doses.

In a statement announcing the reduction in the pricing of Covaxin, the company said: “Bharat Biotech is deeply concerned with the critical pandemic circumstances that India is facing at this time. Recognising the enormous challenges to the public health care system, we have made Covaxin available to State governments at a price of ₹ 400 per dose…. We wish to be transparent in our approach to pricing which was determined by internally funded project development, several operationally intensive BSL-3 manufacturing facilities and clinical trials.”

Krishna Ella, chairman and managing director of the company, had earlier said that the company took up the development of Covaxin in order to help the country and not to make money. In a video message that was shared by Bharat Biotech after the interim Phase-3 trial results of Covaxin showed 81 per cent efficacy, Ella had said: “As a company, we took it as a cause, not to make money but to help the country and save people’s lives.”

The issue of vaccine pricing has been hotly debated ever since the Centre deregulated COVID-19 vaccine pricing and permitted the direct sale of vaccines from manufacturer to State governments and private entities. This was done even while the Centre reserved 50 per cent of the vaccines produced for itself at the existing price of Rs.150 a dose. The two manufacturers were free to fix the price for the balance 50 per cent that they produced.

Bharat Biotech had justified the high price, saying that it needed to recover the cost of product development, manufacturing facilities, non-availability of reagents and clinical trials. The original strain for Covaxin came from the National Institute of Virology, Pune. The Indian Council of Medical Research had, along with Bharat Biotech, co-funded the clinical trials. The Centre has also agreed to advance Bharat Biotech Rs. 1,500 crore to help it improve and enhance its manufacturing capacity.

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