As the number of coronavirus cases in the world continues to surge, so does our hope of discovering an effective vaccine. The frontrunner of the COVID-19 vaccine development in India is the Serum Institute of India (SII). The owner of the company, Adar Poonawalla rolled out a tweet asking if the government has Rs80,000 crores to distribute the vaccine over one year once it becomes available. As per sources, the government will do everything in its power to skip answering the question. While it isn’t clear how Adar Poonawalla arrived at the 80,000 crores figure, it should prompt the government to devise a funding plan for the vaccine distribution.
Accordingly, the government has come with a dedicated committee that has asked the vaccine manufacturers to submit quotes so that a realistic cost estimate can be drawn. As of today, there are about 182 coronavirus vaccine candidates in the world. Out of these, 36 are in the clinical trials and nine are in the final stages of development. In fact, India has about eight candidates, out of which, two are in the last stages of human trials. Major superpowers of the world such as the UK and the US have already signed a deal with vaccine manufacturers for the supply to their citizens. Whereas the Covax initiative of the GAVI, the WHO, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation aims to deliver the coronavirus shot at the rate of $3 per shot to 92 poor and developing countries.
After the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation doubled its contribution to SII, the vaccine giant agreed to double its supply to the Covax initiative by adding 100 million more doses. Scientists have already proved that the immunity due to the coronavirus shot may not last long and hence, multiple shots of the same may be required. Add to the list the difficulty of worldwide distribution, India will be left in dire straits if people opt out of vaccination due to cost issues. For this purpose, many countries in the world are brainstorming ways to make the COVID-19 shot free for a large chunk of their population. Take the U.S. for instance, the country’s CARES Act has declared the COVID-19 vaccine as a preventive care measure that will be covered in the health insurance of an individual. Of course, this doesn’t make the shot free of cost. But, it does provide a safety cushion to the American people paying a premium for their health insurance.
Learning a lesson from the American act, the Australian government too has announced free distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. If India wants to control the pandemic once the vaccine is released, it will need to find a way to either distribute the shots free of cost or subsidize it in a cost-effective way for its citizens.