India on Friday began using Sputnik V in its battle against COVID-19 with the first dose of the vaccine from Russia administered in Hyderabad. The vaccine is being sold at a maximum retail price of ₹995 per dose.
“As part of a limited pilot, the soft launch has commenced and the first dose was administered in Hyderabad,” announced Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, the marketing partner for the Russian vaccine, that earlier this month received a consignment of 1.50 lakh doses.
The use of the vaccine follows clearance for the imported doses from the Central Drugs Laboratory in Kasauli on Thursday. Sputnik V that last month was accorded emergency use authorisation by the Drugs Controller General of India thus joins Covishield and the indigenous Covaxin in the immunisation programme that in recent weeks has been hamstrung by a shortage of the vaccines.
Members of the senior leadership of Dr. Reddy’s said the vaccine will be supplied at the same price —₹948 plus 5% GST — to both government and private sector. For the consumers, there would also be administering charges levied by hospitals. Given that the vaccine must be stored at minus 18 degrees C and the lack of availability of such cold chain infrastructure, the company said, “We will begin with Metros and Tier 1 cities and scale up to the rest of India.”
In the run up to the launch, the company’s leadership had said the cost of imported Sputnik V, which is a two dose vaccine, in India would hover around the $10 a dose at which it was priced in other global markets by Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF).
Co-Chairman and Managing Director G.V. Prasad said, “We are prioritising our efforts to launch Sputnik V vaccine across India.” Dr. Reddy’s was also in discussion with a couple of State governments for vaccine offtake.
The vaccine price has been set taking into account the import, logistics and distribution cost, but it may come down once domestic manufacturing of Sputnik commences. RDIF, which is bank rolling the vaccine developed by Gamaleya National Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, has tied up with six firms to manufacture an estimated 850 million doses Sputnik V in India. The Indian-made vaccine is likely to hit the market in July.
Dr. Reddy’s said the plan over the next 8-12 months is to vaccinate 125 million people, with about 15-20% of the requirement coming from Russia. The next consignment of Sputnik V is likely to arrive in a week and the company expects 36 million doses to be available over the next two months. There are plans to to bring the single dose Sputnik Light in India.