With the COVID-19 pandemic raging across the world for nearly a year, work on multiple vaccines have continued at a war footing. And while officials have assured that a vaccine would become available within the next few months, its availability to all, and the price for such a vaccine has been cause for concern.
On Thursday, the BJP's Bihar Assembly election manifesto vowed to make the COVID-19 vaccine available to all residents of the state free of cost. Since then, there have been two clarifications and addendums. While MoS Health Ashwini Chaubey assured that the free COVID-19 vaccine would be available for people across the country irrespective of the state they belonged to, BJP IT Cell Chief Amit Malviya explained that the Centre would provide vaccines to the states at a "nominal rate". As he explained, it was then up to the state government to decide whether it would be given for free.
But how much would a vaccine for all cost the Indian government? With a population of more than 1.3 billion, India admittedly faces a complicated task. Apart from the sheer volume, a part of India's population is unlikely to have the means to pay for a vaccine.
Serum Institute of India CEO Adar Poonawalla had wondered towards the end of September whether the government will have Rs. 80,000 crores available over the next one year. This, he said, was what the Health Ministry needed "to buy and distribute the vaccine to everyone in India".
And while that may seem like a massive amount, it must me noted that this is a drop in the bucket when one considers the total GDP of the country. India's GDP growth may have shown a drop in the April-June period of this year, but nonetheless the GDP at Constant (2011-12) Prices in Q1 of 2020-21 is estimated at Rs 26.90 lakh crore. Note that this is simply for one quarter.
Globally there are nearly 200 vaccine candidates that are undergoing pre-clinical or clinical trials. Of these, the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine candidate is at present leading the race. AstraZeneca, Johnson and Johnson and Pfizer have said that they do not intend to profit from the vaccine. This could help bring down the cost for the same.
While it remains unclear exactly what price each vaccine will become available at, a Financial Times report indicates that the prices available thus far run a wide gamut. Reportedly, AstraZeneca has sold the vaccine at $3 to $4 per dose in deals with the European Union, while the Johnson and Johnson vaccine stands slightly higher at $10 per dose. While the prices reported thus far range up to $ 60 for two doses, it is likely that vaccines offered in India will fall at the cheaper end of the spectrum.