Amid uproar over high COVID-19 vaccine prices, the Centre is mulling a Goods and Services Tax (GST) wavier to lower the prices for state governments and private hospitals.
The government may waive the 5 percent GST applicable on coronavirus vaccines to reduce their cost by up to Rs 1,200 a dose in private hospitals depending on the vaccine, Hindustan Times reported, citing people familiar with the matter.
"The Centre has already waived import duty on most essential pharmaceutical raw materials required to manufacture drugs for the treatment of COVID-19 patients, and is considering scrapping the 5 percent GST on vaccines on similar grounds," sources told the publication.
The waiver will require the approval of the GST Council but it is unlikely that any member will oppose the move, a person said, adding that it will not have "significant revenue implication".
Frequently Asked Questions
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.
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.
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.
The Finance Ministry did not respond to an email query, the report said.
The Centre has decided to open up the vaccination drive for everyone above 18 from May 1. However, unlike the previous phases, the vaccination for those in the 18 to 44 age group will not be free.
Serum Institute of India (SII) on April 21 had announced that it would price the Covishield vaccine at Rs 400 per dose for state governments and Rs 600 for private hospitals.
However, following widespread criticism of its pricing policy, SII on April 28 cut the price of the jab to Rs 300 per dose from Rs 400 for states. The price remains Rs 600 for private hospitals.
"As a philanthropic gesture on behalf of @SerumInstIndia, I hereby reduce the price to the states from Rs 400 to Rs 300 per dose, effective immediately; this will save thousands of crores of state funds going forward. This will enable more vaccinations and save countless lives," he said.
Notably, it had sold the initial doses of Covishield to the central government at Rs 150 per dose.
Bharat Biotech has set Covaxin’s prices at Rs 600 per dose for state governments and Rs 1,200 per dose for private hospitals.
The central government had earlier asked SII and Bharat Biotech to lower the prices of their COVID-19 vaccines amid criticism from various states who accused the companies of profiteering during such a major crisis.Click here for Moneycontrol's full coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak