In February this year, the Brazil government signed an agreement to purchase 20 million doses of India's homegrown COVID-19 vaccine - Covaxin. The agreement commits the Health Ministry to a payment of $ 320 million - at a cost of $15 per vaccine dose - to Precisa Medicamentos, the representative of Bharat Biotech in Brazil. Now, with the deal under scrutiny from the country's federal prosecutor's office, Bharat Biotech has come forward with a clarification of sorts.
In a statement on Wednesday, the company countered those "misrepresenting the procurement process of Covaxin". According to Bharat Biotech, from the first meeting in November 2020 to June 29th 2021, the "a step by step approach" had been followed towards contracts and regulatory approvals.
"As of 29th June 2021, Bharat Biotech has not received any advance payments nor supplied any vaccines to MOH Brazil. Bharat Biotech has followed a similar approach towards contracts, regulatory approvals and supplies in several countries worldwide, where Covaxin is being supplied successfully," the company said.
Prosecutors have recently opened an investigation into the deal, citing comparatively high prices, quick talks and pending regulatory approvals as red flags for the contract. Officials note that at the time of the deal, the vaccine had not even been approved by Brazil's health agency. At the same time, they say, other already-approved vaccines were on the market at lower prices.
Speaking about the pricing, Bharat Biotech said that the cost had been "clearly established between $15-20 per dose" for supplies to Governments outside India. "The pricing for Brazil has also been indicated at $ 15 per dose. Bharat Biotech has received advance payments from several other countries at the above price points, with supplies in process, pending approvals," the statement added.
While the higher price per dose drew prosecutors attention, they also contend that the ministry ignored a history of alleged irregularities by Precisa associates in previous contracts with the federal government. The company in question denies all such irregularities.
"Precisa Medicamentos is Bharat Biotech’s partner in Brazil, providing assistance, guidance and support with regulatory submissions, licensure, distribution, insurance, conduct of phase III clinical trials, etc. Bharat Biotech follows a similar partnership model in all countries, where its vaccines are supplied, as it does not have its own offices in these countries," the statement by Bharat Biotech added.