Reuters/ New Delhi
India is close to agreeing to grant foreign Covid-19 vaccine makers such as Pfizer protection against legal liability so that it can use their shots in an immunisation campaign that is facing acute shortages, three government sources said.
“Indemnity will be granted,” said one of the sources. “If one company gets it then all of them get it.” India invited Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson in April to sell their vaccines after infections rocketed. However, no deal has been signed.
Pfizer has not sold to any country without obtaining indemnity against legal action over any adverse effects of their product.
India has not granted indemnity to any Covid-19 vaccine maker, but the sources, who requested anonymity, said the government was having a change of heart.
The government has already met one of Pfizer’s other key demands by dropping a requirement that foreign vaccines undergo local trials.
Another government official said he expected Pfizer vaccines to be delivered in August.
He said initial recipients of foreign shots could be monitored, before a mass roll-out “once we are sure of its efficacy on Indians.”
Neither the foreign or health ministries responded to a request for comment.
Pfizer declined to comment on its discussions with the Indian government but said it sought indemnity wherever it supplied its vaccine.
“We seek the same kind of indemnity and liability protections in all of the countries that have asked to purchase our vaccine, consistent with the local applicable laws to create the appropriate risk protection for all involved,” a Pfizer spokeswoman said.
One of the sources said India was negotiating prices of $10-$12 per dose for foreign shots.
The European Union is paying 15.5 euros ($18.86) per dose for the Pfizer vaccine developed with Germany’s BioNTech.
The Pfizer spokeswoman said the company had offered doses to many countries at a not-for-profit price.
India has administered more than 239mn vaccine doses — mainly a licensed version of the AstraZeneca drug produced locally — the most in the world after China and the US.
But with a population of 1.35bn people, India’s vaccination rate is much lower than many countries.
In a related development, an Indian state raised its Covid-19 death toll sharply higher after the discovery of thousands of unreported cases, lending weight to suspicion that the country’s overall death tally is significantly more than the official figure.
Indian hospitals ran out of beds and life-saving oxygen during a devastating second wave of coronavirus in April and May and people died in parking lots outside hospitals and at their homes.
Many of those deaths were not recorded in Covid-19 tallies, doctors and health experts say.
India has the second-highest tally of Covid-19 infections in the world after the US, with 29.2mn cases and 359,676 deaths, according to health ministry data.
But the discovery of several thousand unreported deaths in the state of Bihar has raised suspicion that many more coronavirus victims have not been included in official figures.
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