The Union Health Minister’s office has said that the Pasteur Institute of India (PII) in Coonoor will be able to produce and supply vaccines for India’s Universal Immunisation Programme by 2023. However, PII will not be making COVID-19 vaccines, the response clarified.
Currently, PII’s Tetanus Diphtheria and Pertussis facility has been upgraded as per the Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMP) standards and the facility is under qualification stage, the letter by Health Minister Mansukh Mandviya’s office stated. “The performance qualification of facilities, utilities, and critical equipment will be completed by November 2021 and thereafter, the trial batches of vaccines will be initiated,” the letter reads, adding that PII will be able to supply vaccines to UIP by 2023.
This letter was in response to Tamil Nadu MP P Wilson’s queries regarding why the Union Government did not engage three vaccine production centres, including PII, in Tamil Nadu, to scale up operations in India. Wilson mentioned the Integrated Vaccine Complex at Chengalpattu, the King’s College, Chennai and the PII in Coonoor.
The Health Minister’s letter said that the King’s College came under the administrative control of the Government of Tamil Nadu. Regarding IVC in Chengalpattu, the letter said that on March 27, 2021, HLL published the tender on the Central Public Procurement Portal inviting beds for “selection of IVC facility users through competitive bidding on an as is where is basis.” The letter added that due to no takers, HLL/HBL had to extend the validity of the tender twice until May 21, 2021, during which it expired.
In his letter dated May 13, 2021, Wilson had suggested several ways that the Union Government could utilise potential vaccine manufacturing facilities at a time when the country was facing a vaccine shortage.
Wilson pointed out that there are two ways to make this happen. He said that one way would be to permit Serum Institute of India (SII, which has the Intellectual Property rights for Covishield) and Bharat Biotech (BB, which has the Intellectual Property rights over Covaxin) to manufacture their vaccines in these facilities on payment of appropriate charges to use the facilities.
Another way, according to Wilson’s letter, would be to waive off the patent restrictions and issue compulsory licences to the three organisations owning the facilities to help them manufacture the vaccines themselves. He pointed out that Section 92 of the Patents Act permits the Union government to issue compulsory licences to produce a drug in times of a ‘national emergency’ and added that the pandemic qualifies to be called a national emergency.