There is no one in SII to listen to us: T.S. Singh Deo

Chhattisgarh Health Minister says Bharat Biotech is attentive but ‘just doesn’t have enough doses’

The Serum Institute of India (SII) is unresponsive to the State governments, Chhattisgarh Health Minister T. S. Singh Deo, said urging the Centre to foot the bill for COVID-19 vaccines instead of passing on the cost to State governments.

Speaking to The Hindu following a meeting with Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, Mr. Deo said, “There has been no response from the Serum Institute of India on queries from our side. There is nobody responsible who is talking there,” he said. Chhattisgarh has so far bought 7 lakh doses on its own, over 4 lakh doses of which are SII’s Covishield.

He said that Bharat Biotech, which manufactures Covaxin, though attentive to the States, just doesn’t have enough doses.

Dr. Harsh Vardhan chaired a virtual meeting on Friday on the COVID-19 situation and vaccination progress with the Health Ministers of Chhattisgarh, Goa, Himachal Pradesh and Puducherry, and the Lieutenant-Governors/ Administrators of Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Chandigarh, Dadra Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu, Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh and Lakshadweep .

At the meeting with the Union Health Minister, Mr. Deo said that he had raised this issue, urging the government to centralise vaccine distribution for the 18-plus category, too.

“This is a national pandemic and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman gave an assurance in Parliament, allocating ₹35,000 crore for the vaccination programme. There was no reason to palm it off to the State governments,” Mr. Deo said.

“At the rate of our current output of 7 crore doses per month by the manufacturer, it will take many months [to secure the necessary doses],” Mr. Deo said.

“The Centre’s vaccination policy is comparable to the demonetisation, where a certain denomination was cancelled without first printing the new notes to replace the cancelled, leading to a slide in the economy,” he added.

Earlier this month, SII CEO Adar Poonawala left for London. In an interview in London, he said that he and his family had left the country after unprecedented “pressure and aggression” over the demand for COVID-19 vaccines.

The Centre has now started allocating a vaccine quota for each State.

Mr. Deo said that if they controlled the quota, then they must also pay for it.

Out of the 68 lakh doses Chhattisgarh received from the Centre, Mr. Deo said that over 61 lakh doses have been administered.

The issue of “black fungus” spreading, often in the patients hospitalised for COVID-19 treatment, was also raised in the meeting. “So far we have had 102 cases of black fungus and one death. For which the Centre has provided us only 500 vials of Amphotericin B injection. And as per doctors, we need at least 12,000 doses because these injections have to be administered over a 21-day period,” Mr. Deo said.

He complained that drug manufacturing firms only listened to the Pharmacy Pricing Department, which came under the Union government. “So unless the Centre steps, the States cannot do much,” he said.

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