Despite the government’s attempts at isolation and containment of Coronavirus infected persons, the number of people infected doesn’t seem to settle down. There has been a rise in numbers, coupled with shooting deaths. This has created an urgency for the pharma industry to develop a potent vaccine. A key question here is will the Covid-19 drug prices in India be driven by pharma companies or by government subsidies?

In India pharma majors such as Johnson & Johnson, Moderna Therapeutics, AstraZeneca and Pfizer have already reached trial stages and are leaving no stone unturned to win the battle. However, there is an ongoing debate about the Coronavirus drug’s cost.

The pertinent question remains: Whether Coronavirus vaccine will be affordable for all?

Are Free Drugs Cheap Drugs?

To understand the question around pricing of COVID-19 drugs, we need to first shed light on the investments being made to pace up the trials and manufacturing of the Coronavirus vaccine. Governments, industry and philanthropists from all around the globe are granting funds into vaccine development and manufacturing projects.

However, with the involvement of private sector, the profit-sharing is not out of picture. In a CNN-News18 interview, Adar Poonawalla, CEO of Serum Institute India said, “Vaccines have not been given their due importance, people has not understood its power; that only for a few dollars can save their life. This is very clear and evident now.” AstraZeneca has pledged it will produce hundreds of millions of doses of their vaccines at no profit to themselves.

Talking about the speed in delivery of drugs from the government and from pharma companies, Morepen CEO Sanjay Suri told, “Vaccine and drug development is a time-taking process”. He says drugs available in the market immediately will be a combination of the drugs already available. He added that the government is also helping with quick approvals and trials.

Ex-IAS and TedX speaker Vivek Atray tells us, “The Government does subsidise essential medicines and it would be appropriate for such a drug to be subsidised as well. It would be in public interest at a large scale.”

Covid-19 Drug Prices In India

It is a well-known fact that drugs research and development is usually driven by market forces. Hence, once a drug is introduced or made available, markets in Japan, United States and western Europe will be the first one to have access to the vaccine.

Talking about the pricing of a COVID-19 drug, Suri said, “No company will be able to sponsor a COVID-19 drug because it’s a huge buss opportunity. However, the government will have power that fix MRP and ceiling price as in the case of sanitisers and masks”. He added that the government can control any company unless we are able to justify the cost.

Trying to find a middle path, Atray adds, “I think companies which develop such a drug should look to recover their costs. They should not look for profit margins. They can also further subsidise the costs as a CSR measure.”

According to Vivek Sood, General Manager – Aristo Pharmaceuticals, “If COVID-19 vaccine is free, it has to be distributed from government hospitals only, where storage and adequate availability is always a concern.We know from our experience that most of the times the availability of free medicines is a big question mark in government run hospitals while they are easily available in private hospitals.


The Middle Path

The question in the minds of researchers is this. Is there a way to ensure easy and affordable access to the vaccine without flattening the rights of the inventor as well as the investor? The need is for the intellectual property owners of critical healthcare medicines and vaccines toachieve a balance between their Intellectual Property Rights and public good.

Sood adds, “Looking at the figures, almost everyone would require to be vaccinated against COVID, it’s beyond the government’s known capacity to either properly stock the required number of doses or administer them to the entire population in any reasonable time limit.”

Therefore, it’s important to allow the private centres to stock & administer COVID vaccines which can happen only if the vaccine is not free. To ensure that no one indulges in unnecessary profiteering from COVID vaccine, the price of the same should be brought under DOCO (NPPA). This will ensure that vaccine is available to everyone in the shortest time & at an affordable price.”

The Role of the Government

The Government has a pivotal role to play as it is already succumbing under the crushing economy. It is imperative for the Government to provide licenses to third parties at reasonable rates after clear negotiation with the patent owner. If possible, the lawmakers should also opt for technology transfer initiatives to ensure the vaccines are manufactured in higher numbers for the safety and well-being of the humanity as a whole.

Would you want the government to provide subsidies or should the drug be available for free? Tell us your thoughts about Covid-19 drug prices in India.

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