Amid growing demand for waiving Intellectual Rights over Covid-19 vaccines and even granting compulsory licences to Pharmaceutical companies to manufacture the vaccines to tide over the shortage, Bharat Biotech has said that it welcomes the suggestion of other companies manufacturing Covaxin. This was disclosed by NITI Aayog member Dr VK Paul during a Union Health Ministry press briefing over the Covid-19 situation in the country.
Talking about the suggestions made by many people to allow other Indian companies to manufacture Covaxin, the indigenously developed vaccine by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with ICMR, Dr VK Paul said that when they discussed the matter with Bharat Biotech, the company welcomed the decision.
The NITI Aayog member said that the government has issued an open invitation to the companies willing to collaborate with Bharat Biotech in manufacturing the vaccine. He said that govt will provide full support to the companies willing to come forward in making the vaccine, so that the supply of Covid-19 vaccine in the country can be increased by expanding the production capacity and the shortage of the same can be bridged.
However, even though Bharat Biotech has agreed to allow other companies to manufacture Covaxin, it is unlikely that a large number of Indian pharma companies will start manufacturing it soon. This is because, they don’t have the requisite facilities to produce the vaccine.
Covaxin is made from inactivated SARS-COV-2 viruses, which means, large batches of the highly-infectious vaccine are cultured and they are killed using an inactivating agent to produce it. As the process involved working with live virus, it requires to be made in production facilities having safety rating of Bio-Safety Level 3 (BSL3). Without such highly secure containment facilities, the live virus being cultured to manufacture vaccine may escape and cause a disaster, probably what happened at Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Not many Indian companies have BSL3 certified plants, which means they can’t make the vaccine without setting up such highly sophisticated plant first. In fact, only two Indian pharma companies have such plants, Bharat Biotech and Panacea Biotec.
In fact, Bharat Biotech is already in discussion with Panacea for contract manufacturing the vaccine.
Bharat Biotech is scaling up its capacities to 700 million doses of Covaxin per year. Along with this, Panacea Biotec may start producing the vaccine in the own plant. But apart from that, any other Indian company is not equipped to manufacture the vaccine at present, and setting up BSL3 level plant will take considerable amount of time if some of them are willing to do so.
It may be noted that while two India companies have BSL3 level production plants, the country has several BSL3 level laboratories to study highly infectious pathogens.