The Indian government is in talks with Pfizer to obtain 50 million doses of the company’s coronavirus vaccine starting this summer, but is still considering the drug manufacturer’s demand for indemnity from costs related to severe side effects, officials have said.
India has not given indemnity, or protection from legal liability, to any manufacturer of coronavirus vaccines, but government officials indicated that they were likely to grant Pfizer’s request. The drug company has obtained indemnity in several countries where its vaccine is already in use, including the United States.
“We are examining this request, and we will take decisions in the larger interest of people and on merits,” Vinod Paul, who heads the Indian government’s vaccination program, told reporters on Thursday.
Officials said that Pfizer was prepared to supply India with 50 million vaccine doses from July to October and that the company had shared information related to the drug’s efficacy with the Indian health authorities.
India is struggling to inoculate its population as a second wave of the coronavirus ravages the country, killing thousands a day and overwhelming medical facilities. More than 315,000 people in India have died of the virus, the third-highest toll in the world, after the United States and Brazil, but experts believe the official data is a significant undercount.
Only 3 percent of India’s 1.3 billion people have been fully vaccinated, according to a New York Times database, and experts say that vaccines are slow to reach rural India, where the outbreak is growing. The pace of vaccinations nationwide has slipped to two million shots a day from three million a few months ago, with health centers saying that they are running out of doses and many in the country saying that they cannot find a place to be inoculated.
Indian officials now say that expanding vaccinations is the only way out of the outbreak, but, unlike many other countries, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi declined to sign advance purchase agreements with vaccine manufacturers, believing this year that it had defeated the virus. Experts say that as Indians lowered their guard, they were left defenseless against coronavirus variants that are believed to be more transmissible.
India’s large vaccine manufacturing industry has failed to keep up with demand, leaving the country reliant on imported doses that are in short supply globally. On Thursday, Indian officials said that they would work with Pfizer to make its doses available as soon as possible.