New Delhi: India's government has set aside about 500 billion rupees ($7 billion) to vaccinate the world's most populous country after China against the coronavirus, according to people with knowledge of the matter.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's administration estimates an all-in cost of about $6-$7 per person in the nation of 1.3 billion, the people said, asking not to be identified as the details are private. The money provisioned so far is for the current financial year ending March 31 and there will be no shortage of further funds for this purpose, they added.
A Finance Ministry spokesman couldn't immediately be reached when tried on his mobile.
"I doubt that the marginal cost of a vaccine would be anything close to that number at the volumes that India will purchase. There's one large buyer - India - and one large seller, potentially," said Ramanan Laxminarayan, director of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy, which has offices in Washington and New Delhi. "A lot will come down to negotiations and the government has a lot more power in these situations."
Adar Poonawalla, head of the Serum Institute of India Pvt., the world's largest manufacturer of vaccines, has predicted the nation would need about 800 billion rupees to procure and inoculate people living everywhere from the Himalayas to the remote Andaman & Nicobar islands. Apart from buying the treatment, transporting them from manufacturing sites would be a massive undertaking.
Delivering a vaccine across India "will be a gigantic task," Mahesh Devnani, an associate professor at the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh, said Wednesday on a webinar. "We need a prioritization plan, everyone cannot have it initially."
By one estimate, airlifting single-dose regimens to protect the world's population would require space in about 8,000 cargo planes.
The biggest challenge for India will be building up cold-chain logistics to distribute vaccines across India in a short period of time, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, the founder and chairman of Biocon Ltd., said at the Bloomberg India Economic Forum last week.
"I do hope by the end of November that we are able to say we have a plan" and digital platforms to help roll out vaccines, she said.
While a government-backed panel predicts that India is past the peak of infections and may contain the spread by February, the nation has taken a massive blow to economic growth and Modi has been reopening the economy. Starting this weekend, Indians will be celebrating several festivals that could lead to a sharp jump in daily virus infections.
Modi on Tuesday said his government will ensure all Indians have access to a COVID-19 vaccine as soon it is ready.