Hindustan Times (Jammu)
India’s new vaccine regime
Partner with the private sector and get the vaccine to every Indian who wants it
The emergency use authorisation granted by India’s drugs regulator to Sputnik V, and the government’s decision to fast-track similar approvals, conditionally, for any Covid-19 vaccines that have the same in the United States (US), United Kingdom (UK), Europe, and Japan, or which are in the World Health Organization’s emergency use listing is welcome. This is a definite step towards increasing access to, and availability of, vaccines — and it is something that the government could have considered a few months ago.
There are more things the government can do to enhance access. Vaccine-making is a complex, expensive, and risky business. One of the few things the Donald Trump administration got right was its decision to plough billions of dollars of government funds into vaccine-makers. New Delhi may not want to do billions, but it should take steps to boost the capacity of vaccine-makers, streamline government orders, and arrive at a price that is fair to everyone concerned. This requires working with companies, including many in the private sector, not something that comes easily to an administrative machinery that has, over decades, largely distrusted businesses. The result is usually policies that handicap businesses, where they should be empowering them, and the ultimate price is usually paid by the citizens. Testing is a classic example. With the State regulating prices, there has been little incentive for companies to build scale or invest in technology. And so, even as a second wave threatens to drown India, the country finds itself short of Covid-19 testing capacity. This has resulted in delays, not just in identifying those infected by the virus, but, more importantly, in isolating them so that they cannot spread the disease to others. Sure, the government has to ensure that no one engages in profiteering, especially in the midst of a pandemic, but it should not come in the way of a business making honest profits.
The government should follow up on its approval to Sputnik, and the decision to accelerate approvals to vaccines approved in other countries — both steps advocated by many, including this newspaper — with a clear vaccine policy. This should cover all aspects, from capacity building to purchase planning to pricing to even open-market availability. And it must have a singular objective — making sure every Indian who wants a vaccine gets one.