The central government told the Supreme Court that it had not given any aid or grant for the research and development of the two covid-19 vaccines being used in the country’s mass immunization programme.
While Covishield, developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, is made in India by Serum Institute of India Ltd, Covaxin was developed by Bharat Biotech Ltd, along with indigenously the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
A central government affidavit filed in the top court on Monday further said the sale of Covaxin will fetch 5% royalty for ICMR since the intellectual property governing its use was shared. On 2 May, the government had asked the government whether any fund or grant was provided for the vaccines.
The Centre said the only financial support given was in the form of advance payment for jabs. ICMR, however, spent ₹35 crore and ₹11 crore, respectively, at the trial sites of Covishield and Covaxin. A bench of justices Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud, L. Nageswara Rao and S. Ravindra Bhat is hearing the case.
In its affidavit, the government defended its policies on vaccine pricing and distribution, besides imploring the top court to refrain from interfering with policy decisions.
Responding to a Supreme Court observation that differential vaccine pricing might hurt the right to public health, the Centre said this aimed to incentivize a competitive market and greater vaccine production, leading to market-driven affordable prices. It said this will also attract offshore vaccine manufacturers. The Centre said it managed to negotiate lower prices partly because it had placed relatively large orders. Still, this will eventually have no impact on citizens as all the states have declared that they will give free vaccines, it said.
Both Covishield and Covaxin have been so far bought by the Centre at ₹150 a dose. However, Covishield was first offered to states at ₹400 a dose and ₹600 to private hospitals. Covaxin was offered at ₹600 for state governments and ₹1,200 for private hospitals. Later, Covishield’s price was reduced to ₹300 a dose for states and Covaxin’s reduced to ₹400.
The government also said it has simplified regulatory and testing processes to shorten the approval time for foreign vaccines by four months. Foreign vaccines approved by the US, UK, EU and WHO will go straight for market deployment while bridging trials will be carried out simultaneously, it said.
About the top court’s question on whether the government plans to invoke compulsory licensing for essential drugs and vaccines, the government said such a move would have “serious, severe and unintended adverse consequences” in India’s efforts to become a global drugs and vaccine supplier.
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