India’s biggest conglomerates, including the Tata group and Reliance Industries Ltd, are exploring options to import vaccines directly from manufacturers to inoculate their workforce and ensure business continuity following two waves of the deadly pandemic and with vaccine shortages in India expected to persist in the near future.
The Tata group, which has more than 700,000 employees, is likely to float a global tender to procure vaccines, said two people directly aware of the matter.
“Group companies are in talks with various service providers in the vaccine importing chain. This would involve obtaining a licence and setting up back-end infrastructure for storing vaccines, etc. The company is doing the groundwork, and once all is in place, it may formally decide to import vaccines,” a senior Tata group official said, requesting anonymity.
Reliance Industries is also exploring tie-ups with global manufacturers to procure vaccines directly for its employees, an RIL official said on the condition of anonymity.
Neither the Tata group nor RIL responded to requests for comment. A spokesperson for Larsen and Toubro Ltd said in an emailed response: “We are evaluating all available options to boost our vaccination drive. The company is in constant dialogue with both vaccine manufacturers,” the spokesperson said.
Around 70% of L&T employees in the age group of 45 years and above have taken their first vaccine dose while 20% have taken their second dose, the official said, adding around 10% of employees below 45 years have also taken their first vaccination dose.
In an effort to improve the availability of vaccines, the government earlier this month allowed private and non-central government entities to import vaccines. Vaccines that have not received an emergency use licence in India would have to obtain ‘new drug permission’ from the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO). Companies and state governments, however, need not follow these rules if the vaccine is already authorized by the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI), and any entity, including private companies, can buy it from the importer under the government’s revised guidelines for vaccine procurement.
Industry observers said more companies are likely to opt for imported vaccines in the coming months, although they are likely to face challenges. “The biggest problem will be cold-chain logistics, but discussions are currently underway with logistics services providers for imports and last-mile delivery,” said the CEO of a leading logistics company, requesting anonymity. “But most clients are in a wait-and-watch mode for now, given the raging second wave. The government has already said there will be enough vaccines in the coming months. It remains to be seen whether things pan out that way,” the executive said.
Among pharma firms, Lupin is the most interested in importing vaccines—be it for its own employees or for sales. In an interview, chief executive Vinita Gupta said the drugmaker is in talks with vaccine makers like Pfizer and Moderna for the import and distribution of vaccines but has so far not made any progress. On talks with Moderna, Gupta said, “We have reached out to them, and then they have informed us that they have plans. But we don’t know yet what those plans are.”
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