A few days ago, the Union government refused to buy vaccines from Pfizer, the American pharmaceutical giant, and other companies like Moderna and Johnson & Johnson whose vaccines are being used in the United States. Although the Union government gave states the freedom to import vaccines from other countries, most of the states prefer the indigenous ones manufactured by Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech, given the fact they are cheaper, more effective, and trusted as far as the side effects are concerned.
Now, in order to placate the Modi government, Pfizer has decided to donate medical supplies worth 70 million dollars and requested quick approval of its vaccines. “These medicines, valued at more than $70 million, will be made available immediately, and we will work closely with the government and our NGO partners to get them to where they are needed most. This effort, in combination with Pfizer foundation funding that supports humanitarian organisations providing essential and life-saving equipment to India, such as ventilators, oxygen concentrators, and consumables, is our most comprehensive humanitarian relief response ever,” said Albert Bourla, Chairman and CEO of Pfizer, in a statement.
“Pfizer is aware that access to vaccines is critical to ending this pandemic. Unfortunately, our vaccine is not registered in India although our application was submitted months ago. We are currently discussing with the Indian government an expedited approval pathway to make our Pfizer-BioNTECH vaccine available for use in the country,” Bourla added.
The company is using its NGO arm and humanitarian assistance to buy leverage in discussion over the approval of its vaccines. But, given the way the Modi government operates, one can argue that the vaccine Pfizer’s vaccines would have to pass through the same rigorous process through which Indian vaccines went and the ‘generous’ donation is not going to buy the company any leverage.
Recently, Reuters had reported that the Modi government has left it to the Indian states and firms to sign deals with foreign drugmakers while it buys half the output of Indian producers – the Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech, manufacturing Covishield and Covaxin respectively.
Earlier this month, the Modi government had fast-tracked the process of foreign vaccines acquiring emergency approvals in India if they were given the green signal by other countries already. It must be remembered that the Modi government’s decision to not procure foreign vaccines itself, but allow state governments and corporations to do so independently is as good as a gigantic no to America’s prying pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer. Foreign vaccines will be much costlier than those being manufactured in India, and would also heavily deplete the treasuries of the states which choose to import them.
With many state governments promising that they would inoculate all eligible citizens free of cost, the import of foreign vaccines at extravagant rates would be unfeasible for them. As such, with one move, the Modi government has ensured that American vaccines are kept out of India, while the domestic pharmaceutical industry continues to fuel India’s massive vaccination campaign. The generous donation from the American pharmaceutical companies might buy the Biden administration its lost goodwill but definitely no laxity over the approval of its vaccines.