DRL's GV Prasad on vaccine ramp-up, Sputnik plan and price cap removal

GV Prasad, Co-Chairman, DRL, says the Sputnik vaccine process will start soon, may be in a matter of weeks. Edited excerpts:

When do you think will the first batch of Sputnik arrive in India, and when will be in a position to supply?
We are making all efforts to bring this vaccine from Russia as soon as possible. We are in the final stages of negotiations on fixing the price for the public market as well as the private market. We expect that we will start the process very soon, may be in a matter of weeks.

How soon can vaccine manufacturing be ramped up in India?

The process of manufacturing pharmaceuticals is very complex. It is not like you can just switch on manufacturing. You need to have a tech transfer process, then a scale-up process, then analytics equivalence.

It is not a trivial problem. Anybody starting today will take months to get on stream. While we all want it to be done as fast as possible, there is a complex process involved. It cannot be cut short.

Companies have got started, but it will take some time. It will be several months before we can get the production of other vaccines up. We were lucky to have Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech early on in the pandemic. We will now have more choices and more supplies, but that will take some time.

What is your take on price caps being done away with?

It is an absolute requirement. To ramp up capacity, manufacturing people have to invest. They have to put in capital.

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At the same time, there is also a social commitment to people who cannot afford to pay. I think the government rightly took care of the most vulnerable sections initially. But now, those who do not need to be subsidised should pay. There is no need to subsidise people who do not need to be subsidised.

That will help vaccine manufacturers recover their investments, and incentivise them to ramp up even faster and more.

Where should one draw the fine line between getting vaccines to those who can’t pay, and rewarding private entrepreneurship?
This is a very fine balance. I am not in a position to answer your question. This is really for the policymakers to decide.


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