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JSW Group in talks to procure vaccines for 25,000 employees, their families

Other manufacturing companies, including those from the Tata Group and India unit of an MNC, have also been discussing options to inoculate employees

January 14, 2021 / 11:27 AM IST
India's vaccination programme is set to begin from January 16 (Representative Image)

India's vaccination programme is set to begin from January 16 (Representative Image)

 
 
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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.

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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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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.
Prince Mathews Thomas heads the corporate bureau of Moneycontrol. He has been covering the business world for 16 years, having worked in The Hindu Business Line, Forbes India, Dow Jones Newswires, The Economic Times, Business Standard and The Week. A Chevening scholar, Prince has also authored The Consolidators, a book on second generation entrepreneurs.
first published: Jan 14, 2021 11:27 am

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