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Vaccine manufacture

This is not the time to look for profits.

Statesman News Service | New Delhi |

The Constitution of India has mandated separation of powers between the executive, legislature and the judiciary. Of late, more and more powers of the executive are being performed by the judiciary for want of the executive’s failure to safeguard its turf, notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s own ruling on the basic structure of the constitutional scheme in the Kesavananda Bharati case of 1973.

On Monday (17 May) the Allahabad High Court said, “one cannot understand as to why the government of ours, which is a welfare state, is not trying to manufacture the vaccine (Covid-19) itself on a large scale.” A Division Bench of Justices Siddhartha Varma and Ajit Kumar suggested that big medical companies which are working in the country and may not have their own vaccines may take the formula from any of the vaccine manufacturers from the world and start producing the vaccine.

In this way they could help the country meet the shortage of vaccines, the Bench said, adding, “It is absolutely necessary to vaccinate each and every one in the country to avert any further havoc that may be created by Covid-19.” The Supreme Court on 8 May set up a 12-member National Task Force to streamline and ensure effective and transparent allocation of liquid medical oxygen on a rational and equitable basis to the States and Union Territories. In spite of the order, supply of oxygen fell far short of requirement.

Hindustan Biotech Limited, a subsidiary of the Government of India owned HLL Lifecare, had set up a state-of-the-art Integrated Vaccine Complex on a sprawling 100-acre campus in Chengalpattu, 60 km from Chennai, in Tamil Nadu, to produce life-saving, cost effective vaccines with a capacity to produce one billion doses annually. Estimated to cost Rs 594 crore when the project was launched in 2012 by the UPA government, the cost escalated to Rs 904 crore when completed in 2018.

But the government has not taken any step so far to start production. The facility has a sanctioned staff strength of 408 of which 251 posts are yet to be filled. Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan visited the plant accompanied by former Tamil Nadu Health Minister C Vijayabhaskar of the AIADMK on 9 January and promised to look into its idle status. Nothing has come of it so far. According to informed sources, the cost escalation has rendered the plant “non-profitable.”

This is not the time to look for profits. Tamil Nadu has been a pioneer in production of vaccines in India. King Institute of Preventive Medicine and Research was established on the banks of the Adayar at Guindy in Chennai in 1899. It is credited with eradicating small pox in India by developing a vaccine. The government it seems is more interested in King Institute’s architectural features than the vaccines it brings out.