India's vaccination programme is set to begin from January 16 (Representative Image)
JSW Group, a few Tata Group companies and the India unit of a major multinational are among scores of firms that have either initiated or plan to begin talks with vaccine manufacturers in a first step to inoculate employees against COVID-19.
While executives close to these companies said, "these are still early days," the plan is to first vaccinate employees at manufacturing units, as they are more vulnerable than those working from home.
The initiative coincides with the national roll-out of the vaccines, which have been flown to two dozen destinations over the last two days. From January 12, Serum Institute of India began delivering its Covishield vaccines, with Bharat Biotech following suit a day later, with the Covaxin doses.
The Indian government will start administering the vaccines from January 16. While the initial focus is to vaccinate healthcare and frontline professionals - 30 crore by July - the market is expected to open up for retail and institutional sale even before that.
JSW Steel has already initiated talks with the vaccine makers. The first shots may be available as early as March. "It is still in discussion, the details are being worked out. The talks are to supply around 2-3 lakh doses," a source from the pharmaceuticals industry, and aware of the talks, said.
When contacted, a senior JSW executive confirmed the initiative and said the group has plans to give double shots to employees and family members. He declined to share further details.
While the flagship steel business- JSW Steel - has about 13,160 employees, the Group - which also includes energy, cement, paints and infrastructure verticals - overall has a staff strength of 25,000. The industry executive quoted above added that negotiations on the price of the vaccine are also on.
The government is vaccinating the three crore healthcare and frontline professionals for free. Later on, the doses will be priced. Serum Institute had previously said it is supplying vaccines to the government at Rs 200 per dose. The retail price could be about Rs 1,000 a dose.
Manufacturing units in focus
Sources close to the Tata Group said some of the companies in the conglomerate have initiated discussions on procuring vaccines. "Individual companies are taking steps. A decision hasn't been taken yet," said an executive.
The India unit of a multinational manufacturing company is waiting to hear from the parent, which has initiated talks with global vaccine manufacturers for its units in Europe and North America. "We are awaiting communication," an executive said. The company has about 7,000 employees in India.
Observers said companies are waiting for more vaccines to come into the market, and not depend just on Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech. Apart from these two, four more companies are in different stages of conducting trials. These include Russia's Sputnik vaccine that will be distributed by Dr Reddy's Lab in India, and Zydus Cadila, which recently got the nod for third phase trials.
Even as companies await more clarity on the supply of vaccines, some wonder if vaccination of employees could be included under corporate social responsibility. In an interview to Moneycontrol in November
, Biocon Chairperson Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw had asked the government to allow corporates to vaccinate their employees, using CSR funds.