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Vaccine makers upset over ‘differential pricing’ for ZyCov-D, and lack of clarity on exports

ZyCov-D has reportedly been priced by the company at Rs 1,900 for three doses while the others cost between Rs 205-215 per dose.

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New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government’s admission that the potential new entrant in the Covid-19 vaccination programme, ZyCov-D of Gujarat-based Zydus Cadila, would be priced differently from the vaccines currently in use — Covishield and Covaxin — has caused concerns among the manufacturers of these two vaccines.

The government’s announcement last week that the world’s first DNA vaccine is unlikely to cost in the same range as the ones in the Covid immunisation basket came even as Serum Institute of India (manufacturer of Covishield) and Bharat Biotech (manufacturer of Covaxin) await clarity on vaccine exports.

India had announced just ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s US visit last month that export of Covid vaccines would resume from October but the companies have not yet been told how much they can export, and on what conditions.

Reacting to reports that Zydus has asked for Rs 1,900 for three doses of the vaccine, a person associated with one of the vaccine makers told ThePrint that it is “very unfair” if the government agrees to such a vastly different price.

“It is their decision to use an expensive delivery mechanism for their vaccine. Why should the government pay for it? Such a decision is going to come as a very big demotivator for companies that have kept the programme running for so long. Even their production capacity is very low — just about 1 crore are ready. If a rollout is so important, then they can keep ZyCov-D, like Sputnik, in a private sector-only mode and then see how many people choose to take it,” the person added.

The concerns have been informally communicated to the government, said sources. However, government officials said such a high price is unlikely to be accepted and negotiations are currently on to reach a middle ground.

At a Covid-19 briefing last week, Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan did not give a date for the introduction of ZyCov-D in the National Covid Vaccination programme but made a clear statement that the vaccine would be differently priced. Bhushan said: “Since ZyCov-D is needleless and a three-dose vaccine, it will be priced differently from the vaccines currently being used.”

The Government of India currently procures Covishield at Rs 205 per dose and Covaxin at Rs 215 per dose.

ThePrint reached both SII and Bharat Biotech for a comment via WhatsApp. While SII declined to make any official statement, a response from Bharat Biotech is awaited. 

Asked about the vaccine pricing, a Zydus Cadila spokesperson said the company has “not released anything on this”. “Will keep you posted,” the spokesperson added.

Also read: Vaccines cut Covid transmission risk but only 90-day protection against Delta: Oxford study

Needle-free applicator is raising costs

ZyCov-D is administered using a needle-free applicator or a jet injector, which pushes liquid medication into a narrow stream that is capable of penetrating skin. 

The device has two parts — an applicator and a gun.

While the applicator is made indigenously and costs Rs 90, the gun is imported and costs Rs 30,000. It can be used for 20,000 shots — or 10,000 persons as each dose of the vaccine comprises two shots.

No clarity on exports

Just before PM Modi travelled to the US last month, the government announced that India would resume vaccine exports from October. 

The government estimates that about 100 crore vaccine doses would be available between October and December. 

Officials said this, apart from the questions about international commitments that would have inevitably risen while the PM was in the US, gave the government the confidence to announce resumption of exports.

However, over two weeks later, vaccine manufacturers have not been given any clarity on how much they can export.

An SII spokesperson confirmed that word is awaited from the government on this.

Sources said the company is already under pressure because of its inability to meet international commitments, particularly the supplies it needs to give Covax, an international consortium that aims at equitable distribution of Covid vaccines. 

“We estimate that the actual physical export is unlikely to start this month. Maybe sometime early next month if all goes well,” said an industry source speaking on condition of anonymity.

Also read: 70% of India’s eligible population have got first dose of Covid vaccine, Mandaviya says


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