Indian drug firm joins Gates Foundation in drive to provide cheap Covid vaccine

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the GAVI vaccines alliance have offered 127 million euros to an Indian biotechnology firm which hopes to produce 100 million doses of affordable Covid-19 vaccines for emerging economies including India by 2021.

Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and co-president of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, which hopes to finance cheap Covid-19 vaccines for emerging economies.
Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and co-president of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, which hopes to finance cheap Covid-19 vaccines for emerging economies. AFP/Archivos

The announcement came as international drug companies signed separate deals with governments to sell their still-experimental vaccines at varying costs.

Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer by volume, said it will cap the cost at 2.5 euros per dose in 92 countries.

“The candidate vaccines, including those from AstraZeneca and Novavax, will be priced at three US dollars,” the company said in a statement.

The Indian price tag was so far the world’s lowest, market analysts added.

The Puna-based biotech organisation had earlier said it had already geared up to produce 200 million doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine, which will be locally branded as Covishield.

Earlier this month, Serum Institute received India’s go-ahead to conduct phase I and II human trials of Covishield.

India sets up vaccine taskforce

The announcement came as officials said India has set up a task force which will select a vaccine or vaccines it can afford to deploy on a national scale.

The task force will then decide whether foreign agencies should be involved or whether state governments will be allowed to buy on their own or if there should be a central procuring system, added the mass-circulation Hindustan Times daily.

The government has said any chosen vaccine will have to meet standards set by the World Health Organization.

India’s vaccine hunt

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) listed three vaccines currently at different trial stages in the country.

Also in the race was Covaxin, under development by India’s Bharat Biotech and touted as an affordable solution for poorer countries.

“Once we have safe and effective vaccines we need to worry about four points: prioritisation and fair distribution, the logistics of vaccine rollout, stockpiling and training of people who will give these vaccines,” ICMR chief Balram Bhargava told a news briefing this week.

India’s urgent need for an antidote to coronavirus gained momentum this week when Covid-19 infections doubled to more than two million in just 21 days amid projections the next million cases were likely to come in the next two weeks.

The ICMR chief also rejected charges that India was not testing enough in the country of 1.3 billion people.

“We are following the policy of intelligent and calibrated testing,” Bhargava said and added ICMR has urged Indian state governments to ramp up the number of tests to one million a day.



India was reporting half a million tests each day at the start of August but, given the sheer size of its population, the scale of the exercise was criticised as insignificant and even flawed.

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