India’s new price caps for privately-given covid jabs qualifies as jaw-droppers. The Serum Institute of India’s facsimile of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, Covishield, can be priced at only ₹780 per dose, whereas the Russian Sputnik-V is capped at ₹1,145. Why do these differences exist? An unpoliced private market serving only profit-seeking individuals is advantageous. Because the regulations only allow a quarter of our vax output to be used in this market, diversion from our free-dose public effort is not a problem if the market is policed well. Bharat Biotech’s indigenous Covaxin can sell for up to 1,410 a shot, according to the Serum Institute of India’s imitation of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, Covishield.
Thus, a high-priced market would’ve served its purpose. There is a but: This one features a virtual duopoly in the midst of a pandemic. This can justify price ceilings. Despite this, Covaxin’s cap peeks out. The administration’s vaccination programme has become muddled. It obfuscates those weighing their options, and makes for discord among the discriminating.
Due to Covaxin’s development using public funds, the goal of recouping the costs cannot justify adding a large additional charge. Supporters of several caps will point to the additional costs. Adenovirus vaccines like Covishield can be made cheaply at scale, they state, while formulas like Covaxin’s that use inactivated viruses see per-unit costs go up as output volumes rise. Adenovirus vaccines are purportedly cheaper to produce.
The true cost per dose is unknown, but the current projections show it to be a small fraction of what customers in the private sector will be expected to pay. Price caps, therefore, should not be a function of production costs, for doing so would defy the whole rationale of India’s better-off paying sums they can easily afford in order to subsidise the rest. Variations in the perceptual value of varied vaccines are unclear.
Covishield has WHO approval and features efficacy data drawn from globally-accredited studies, with a recent clinical trial showing a reduction in the virus’s Delta variant. Covaxin has not received WHO approval, and thus no third-phase clinical results for the original strain are publicly available.
Interim data predicted a ratio of about five placebo group infections for every infected fully-dosed Covaxin recipient; if so, that would suggest efficacy of 80% of the time. This data was neither peer-reviewed nor published. A small study suggested that Covaxin may have a weaker immune response than against other variants, but again, it was not conclusive. Covaxin trails Covishield in a recent study, but no peer review has taken place.