GLOBAL tenders for Covid vaccines by the Mumbai civic body and the Uttar Pradesh government for 1 crore and 4 crore doses respectively, and plans of at least half-a-dozen other states to call for bids, may yield little to no results, unless Russia and China step in with supplies.
Such global tenders for vaccine supply by sub-national governments amid supply shortages are the first publicly known instances during this pandemic. The states may be going through the motions to publicly announce their intent to citizens, but most reckon the slim chances since they have to compete with advance orders by other countries and procurement efforts by a global Covid-19 vaccine facility.
Manish Sisodia, Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi, told The Indian Express, “A state-wise global tender is actually the worst thing to do at a time like this but since the Government of India is not doing it, states can’t sit idle. Which is why, we are also preparing a tender and knocking on doors.”
Delhi wants to get 1 crore vaccine doses under the global tender but is also open to making a deal with manufacturers at its own level. Sisodia is, however, clear that the Centre should take responsibility in situations like Covid, a national disaster.
Maharashtra Health Minister was equally critical. Pointing out that states are only pitting against each other, he said, “This is creating unhealthy competition between states and the only entity that is most likely to benefit from this as vaccine manufacturers. The Centre needs to step in and float a single tender for procurement of these vaccines that would suffice the need of the nation.”
Besides Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, several other states including Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu have announced plans to float global tenders for Covid vaccines. UP has held early talks with Pfizer, Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, Serum Institute of India (SII), Bharat Biotech and Zydus Cadila to procure 4 crore doses.
“What is the chance that, when we have 100 governments which don’t have vaccines in the world, (a state in India) is going to be able to bid for a vaccine? Is that even realistic?” said Murali Neelakantan, principal lawyer at amicus and former global counsel for Cipla and Glenmark Pharmaceuticals. “Several companies are still behind on their previous commitments, and they’re behind by hundreds of millions of doses,” he said.
The states’ scramble for global tenders comes in the backdrop of the difficulties faced by them in getting vaccines from SII and Bharat Biotech, whose Covishield and Covaxin, have largely been used in the country’s immunisation programme. While Dr Reddy’s Laboratories had received approvals to supply Sputnik V in the country as well, only a limited number of doses — around 150,000 — have been procured so far. Further, the global supply of vaccines is already constrained and other countries are still in the process of receiving doses they had ordered in advance.
For instance, the European Union, facing issues with receiving the Covid-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, had approached Pfizer-BioNTech for doses of their Covid-19 vaccine. By the end of March, the bloc had received 107 million Covid-19 vaccines, but is expecting 360 million more between April and June, according to a report by the Financial Times.
COVAX, the Covid-19 vaccine procurement facility under Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, CEPI and WHO, had been inking pacts since 2020 with vaccine makers to be able to procure up to 2 billion doses. This includes commitments from companies like Pfizer to supply 40 million doses, Serum Institute of India for around 200 million doses of Covishield and Covovax — its version of the vaccine developed by Novavax — and Johnson and Johnson for up to 500 million doses of its single-dose jab.
While it has supplied around 59 million doses so far, facing a setback in supplies from Serum Institute of India, it has also been entering into additional agreements, including with Novavax on May 6 for 350 million doses.
Towards the end of March, J&J also announced an agreement with the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust to make available up to 220 million doses of its vaccine to the African Union’s 55 member states starting the third quarter of 2021.
According to a Pfizer spokesperson, the company has distributed 430 million doses to 84 countries as of May 3. “Based on current projections, we believe that we can deliver more than 2.5 billion doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine worldwide by the end of 2021,” the spokesperson told The Indian Express.
The company is “firmly committed” to support India in its fight against the pandemic and continues to engage with the government to advance dialogue and explore opportunities to make the jabs available for use here. “The allocation of doses and implementation plan within a country is a decision for local governments based on relevant health authority guidance,” said the spokesperson.
“During the pandemic phase, we will be supplying through government contracts only. Our discussions are ongoing and we are unable to comment on specifics of those discussions,” the Pfizer spokesperson said.
At the moment, Sputnik V, of which the Russian Direct Investment Federation (RDIF) has committed 250 million doses to DRL, may be able to play a major role in fulfilling the requirements of these states. RDIF also has tie ups with several Indian companies to begin manufacturing over 850 million doses of Sputnik V in a year (nearly 71 million doses a month). However, while the RDIF had earlier said that a majority of what is produced in India would be supplied to the country, it is not clear how many doses India will actually get. While States are seeking vaccines sooner rather than later, timelines for the supply of the initial 250 million doses to India have also not been specified.
China’s Sinovac and Sinopharm may also potentially be able to cater to the gap in supply in India the way it has been delivering on doses that India has been unable to supply due to its second wave. The WHO has already backed Sinopharm’s Covid-19 vaccine with an emergency approval. Various poorer countries, including those in Africa and Latin America, have also given approvals to Chinese Covid-19 vaccines. However, with some tenders seeking to keep out jabs from neighbouring countries, like BMC’s expression of interest, it may make it harder to receive these vaccines in the country. —(With inputs from Mallica Joshi in New Delhi and Zeeshan Shaikh in Mumbai)