Is Allowing COVID-19 Vaccines In The Private Market The Best Idea?

Is Allowing COVID-19 Vaccines In The Private Market The Best Idea?

A great sigh of relief spread across billions of people in the world when the COVID-19 vaccines rolled out in the UK in December 2020. As for the people in India, that date was 16th January 2021. More than 7 million Indians have received the coveted COVID-19 vaccine since. While India bathes in glory for being the fastest country to reach this number, rumours are rife that the said vaccine will soon be sold in the private markets. 

In December, Pfizer became the first company to apply for emergency use authorisation with the Drugs Controller General of India. But, the willingness of the public to pay up a rather hefty amount for a small dosage is a question of importance here. “It’s important to think that you and I are happy to pay money to get the vaccine. There are paying customers, there is demand, and there are private firms who are willing to sell the vaccine”, Professor Ajay Shah of the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy told The Business Standard.

However, according to him, by the time all this happens, we would have developed herd immunity, and the prices of the vaccine will go down drastically. “In India, we’ve got large-scale seroprevalence already. So, relatively modest amounts of vaccination will tip the system over into herd immunity. There will be, and there should be multiple private vendors offering vaccination. And at the same time, in a way pretty rapidly, vaccine demand is going to go away. So the prices are going to collapse.”

Per the latest reports, Serum Institute of India’s CEO, Adar Poonawalla is ready to dole out the Oxford-AztraZeneca vaccine, i.e., Covishield, to the private market. According to him, “In the private market, for those who want to purchase the vaccine, the price would be Rs. 1,000. But we have not received permission for this…” (Source: ANI). While the top healthcare workers would agree with the restrictions on the selling of the vaccine, the general public can provide an argument against it. Allowing for a public-private sale of the vaccines will make things a lot easier for the government.

However, the complications in privately selling the vaccine are manifold. 

Firstly, the government will not have a say in who gets the vaccine and when. As multiple frontline workers are yet to be vaccinated, the situation might get out of control. Of course, the government and the population will be willing to let the Corona warriors have the first go, chances are, not all will be cooperative. Hoarding of vaccines and illegal selling are also problems that may occur if the vaccine is available in the private sector. In India, where the poor outnumber the wealthy, not all will gain access to the doses. And, while brutal classism is a completely different topic, it can not be taken lightly.

The solution to this is simple: A blended approach, i.e., allowing the vaccines in the private market and yet having enough for the lawmakers. If reports are to be believed, that is exactly what is going to happen. A blended approach will guarantee that more people are vaccinated against the deadly coronavirus sooner.

Most recently, the Union Budget laid out plans to focus on eradicating the COVID-19 for good. An amount of Rs. 35,000 crores will be cashed out towards the much-needed vaccine. This amount of money will ensure that the general population and the marginal community will get a chance at developing immunity against the disease. 

Additionally, the second half of the year is likely to see a surge in the number of manufacturers coming out with the drug. The demand-supply chain will force the producers to drop the prices. And, when there’s a good dosage available, opening up the private markets for the vaccine won’t be problematic. Besides, with a shelf life of only six months, the vaccine might be available in the markets sooner than planned, creating a win-win situation for all. 

The novel coronavirus rendered the entire world immobile. The New Year brought with it new hope and a reasonable decrease in the overall cases. And now that the vaccines are being administered on a large scale, not just in India but across the globe, things look extremely positive. The recent budget announcements only act as icing on the top.

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