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Is pricing, indemnity issues holding Centre, Pfizer from striking deal on vaccine procurement?

Pricing, legal indemnity two issues possibly holding up a quick deal, sources say. The company is insisting on a liability shield that protects it from potential lawsuits relating to vaccine-related adverse events. Some countries have agreed to indemnify the vaccine makers for claims as part of the purchase pacts. India has not agreed to this so far.

May 05, 2021 / 11:11 AM IST

Negotiations between the Centre and Pfizer are still under way as the sticky issues related to vaccine pricing, volumes, payment modalities, logistics, follow-up bridging studies and legal indemnity are taking more time to get ironed out, sources told Moneycontrol.

Pricing and legal indemnity are two things that are possibly holding up a quick deal, sources said. Moneycontrol also learns that Pfizer has offered its COVID-19 vaccine, Pfizer-BioNTech, for lower than $10 per dose.

Pfizer has officially stated that it will offer its vaccine at a not-for-profit price, and, as a policy, it will only deal with the Centre.

Insistence on liability shield

The company is insisting on a liability shield that protects it from potential lawsuits relating to vaccine-related adverse events. Some countries have agreed to indemnify the vaccine makers for claims as part of the purchase pacts. India has not agreed to this so far.

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COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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Though negotiations are taking place at different levels, the main talks are between the officials of the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 (NEGVAC) and the US and Indian teams of Pfizer, sources said.

NEGVAC provides guidance on all aspects of COVID-19 vaccination, including prioritisation of population groups, procurement and inventory management, vaccine selection, vaccine delivery and tracking mechanism.

NEGVAC is chaired by Vinod K Paul, Member (Health), NITI Aayog and co-chaired by Rajesh Bhushan, Secretary, Health and Family Welfare.

Emails to both Paul and Bhushan went unanswered till the time of publishing this story. A Pfizer spokesperson declined to comment.

NEGVAC also has representation of secretaries from the Ministry of External Affairs, Department of Expenditure, Dept. of Biotechnology, Dept of Health Research, Dept. of Pharmaceuticals, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, representatives from Tamil Nadu, Assam, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh and technical experts.

Early this week, in a letter to Pfizer India employees, Chairman and CEO Albert Bourla said the company is currently discussing with the Indian government an expedited approval pathway to make our Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine available in the country.

A procurement deal with Pfizer would help India tide over a vaccine shortage. The vaccination momentum has dropped due to supply shortages, even as it was extended to the 18-44 age group, making an additional 59 crore eligible for the jab. The Centre has decentralised vaccine procurement, allowing states, private hospitals and corporates to directly buy from manufacturers.

Pfizer said about 1.6 billion doses are expected to be delivered in 2021 under contracts that have been signed through mid-April 2021.

Pfizer has so far shipped approximately 430 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine to 91 countries and territories around the world.

The company said the supply guidance may be adjusted in future as additional contracts are executed.

 
Viswanath Pilla is a business journalist with 14 years of reporting experience. Based in Mumbai, Pilla covers pharma, healthcare and infrastructure sectors for Moneycontrol.
first published: May 5, 2021 11:11 am

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