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India’s role vital in equitable global distribution of Covid-19 vaccines

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BY S VENKAT NARAYAN Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, December 27:

As the Covid-19 pandemic-ravaged world enters 2021, it is looking to India for the large-scale production and supply of coronavirus vaccines, Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance (IPA) Secretary General Sudarshan Jain has said.

“India contributes 60 per cent of the vaccine production to the world. India is going to play a vital role in equitable distribution of vaccines around the world,” Jain told PTI news agency.

As the pandemic hit the world in 2020, Indian pharma industry rose to the occasion, and was able to manufacture and maintain supply chains even during the lockout period, and exported medicines such as HCQ and paracetamol to more than 150 countries, keeping its image of ‘Reliable Pharmacy of the World’.

The world is again looking at India as a beacon of hope to manufacture and supply the huge number of vaccines needed to tackle the pandemic.

While Indian companies such as Zydus, Bharat Biotech and Gennova are developing indigenous vaccines, other domestic companies are collaborating with global companies such as Serum Institute of India (SII) with AstraZeneca, Dr Reddys with Sputnik and Biological E with J&J, he added.

“India will also be a benchmark in vaccine distribution and will be using technology to ensure targeted and phased distribution. India has always believed that global cooperation and coordination is fundamental to meet the COVID situation,” Jain said.

Currently, three Covid-19 vaccines candidates of Bharat Biotech, SII and Pfizer are under active consideration of India’s drug regulator. There is hope that early licensure is possible for all or any of them, according to the Indian Health Ministry.

Indian Drug Manufacturers’ Association (IDMA) Executive Director Ashok Kumar Madan said: “We are sure with all the attention given by the government, vaccines will too be available for use from January 2021 onwards. These vaccines are being approved by our Drugs Controller as per the stringent international norms. We take pride that almost 70 per cent of the World Health Organisation (WHO) vaccine procurements are from India”.

Indian firms have used different platforms to produce the vaccines. Scientists in these firms have the capability to produce the vaccine to counter the mutated forms in a short time, he added.

On the availability of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, Serum Institute of India (SII) CEO Adar Poonawalla told PTI that, based on the trial results in India and the UK, and if approvals from regulatory bodies are in place in time, “then we can expect the vaccine to be available in India by January 2021 (only if it is proven immunogenic and efficacious)”.

As part of various partnerships and collaborations for vaccine candidates, SII will keep aside 50 per cent of whatever quantity of the vaccine candidates are produced for India and the remaining quantity will go to low- and middle-income countries, he noted.

“So far, under at-risk manufacturing, we have already stockpiled 50 million doses. Currently, our capacity is 60-70 million doses per month, which will increase further up to 100 million doses of the vaccine per month by February 2021. However, we will progress to mass production only after it is proven efficacious and immunogenic for mass use,” Poonawalla said.

About the price of the vaccine, he said: “We want the vaccine to be affordable and accessible to all. The Government of India will receive it at a far more affordable price of US$ 3-4, since they will be buying in a larger volume. The priority is going to be India and the GAVI countries, after which only, the private market will open up where the pricing would be USD 6-8 per dose”. GAVI stands for Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations.

Poonawalla said Covishield is an extremely viable and vital vaccine for India and other low-and-middle-income countries. Its efficacy in terms of affordability and composition makes it easier to transport and store for long periods at 2-8°C i.e. normal refrigerator temperatures. For countries with warm climates, this will help to ensure equitable distribution and sustainable affordability.

“Add to that, we have a long-standing relationship with the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford for our various other vaccine initiatives. We are hopeful that it will be an efficacious and immunogenic vaccine viable for mass use,” he added.

Zydus Group Chairman Pankaj R Patel said: “We are committed to offering a safe and efficacious vaccine to fight the pandemic and our researchers have been working tirelessly to make this happen”.

The outcomes for the Phase I/II clinical trials of ZyCoV-D vaccine have been submitted to the DCGI (Drugs Controller General of India). The company hopes to start the Phase III trials, which will be conducted on 30,000 volunteers across the country, he added.

“We have the capabilities to manufacture over 120 million doses to start with, and shall ramp up depending on the demand. Our focus right through the year has been to support patients with access to critical medicines, diagnostics and other medical essentials in an affordable way to fight Covid-19 and this will continue to be a key factor in our vaccine launch as well,” Patel said.

In September, billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates said that India’s willingness to play a ‘big role’ in manufacturing Covid-19 vaccine and to supply to other developing countries will be a critical part in containing the pandemic globally.

Recently, Bharat Biotech Chairman and Managing Director Krishna Ella said that people who are infected should also take a vaccine, and India is well prepared regarding the logistics for the vaccine distribution as it has a very robust immunisation system.

Another domestic pharma firm, Aurobindo Pharma, has entered the vaccine fray by inking an exclusive licence agreement with US-based company COVAXX, to develop, commercialise and manufacture a vaccine to fight Covid-19 for India and UNICEF.

Joining hands in efforts to help with the availability of the vaccine, Wockhardt, in early December, said it is in discussions with a number of global Covid-19 vaccine developers to offer drug substance as well as fill and finish manufacturing facilities to them.

“2021 will be a year of transformative measures that have been set into motion across the industry. Resilience-strengthening efforts through aspects like digital transformation, securing manufacturing and supply chains, will continue,” Cipla President and Global CFO Kedar Upadhye said.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the first human cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, subsequently named SARS-CoV-2 were first reported by officials in Wuhan City in China, in December 2019.



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CEBEU guns for ex-Chairman Ferdinando

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by Ifham Nizam

The Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers Union (CEBEU) Friday  said that they are in the process of collecting evidence against former Ceylon Electricity Board Chairman M.M.C. Ferdinando over the recent statement he made on a proposed power project with India.

A senior engineer said that there is a high possibility that the seasoned civil servant dragged President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to disrepute because he didn’t see eye to eye with the President.

Eng. Isuru Kasthuriratne, a committee member of the CEBEU and Project Engineer – Mannar Wind Power Project of the Board said they would never allow former chairman to get away easily.

“There are always controversies about him. We would not let this case go. We are in touch with all bodies,” he said.

Kasthuriratne said that very relevant documents were authored and authorized by the former chairman and “he cannot simply say he is not aware of this and that.”

Ferdinando on June 11, tendered his resignation following the controversy he sparked over the planned 500 MW unsolicited wind power project here by India’s Adani group.

“The Adani group at first proposed to sell power to the CEB at 6.50 US cents per unit,” CEBEU President Anil Ranjith told journalists recently.

Despite numerous attempts, the former CEB chairman was not available for comment.

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Dilshan Wirasekara, new CSE Chairman

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The Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) announced the appointment of Dilshan Wirasekara as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the CSE with effect from Friday (24).

Wirasekara has served on the Board of the CSE since 21st November 2017 and succeeds Dumith Fernando, who steps down as the Chairman after completing his two-year tenure.

Wirasekara is the Director/Chief Executive Officer of one of the leading investment banking firms, First Capital Holdings PLC, offering a diverse range of financial services in Government Securities, Corporate Finance and Advisory, Asset Management and Stock Brokering, which he has been part of since 2013.

He currently is the chairman of the Investment Subcommittee of the CSE and also serves on the Risk and Audit Committee of the CSE as well as the CSE/SEC joint committees on Digitalization and the Central Counter Party System (CCP).

An Investment banker by profession with a career spanning over 26 years, comprising diversified expertise in financial services, including banking, treasury and investment management, capital market strategy, and corporate finance advisory services.

Wirasekara specializes in Asset and Liability Risk Management, having secured the accolade of leading and representing two Sri Lankan companies in winning the International Bank Asset and Liability competition organized annually by the Netherlands Development Finance Company (FMO), German Investment Corporation (DEG), and Proparco – a subsidiary of the Agence Française de Development (AFD).

Wirasekara is an alumnus of INSEAD, having completed his Executive Professional Education at INSEAD Business School in Fontainebleau, France. He is also an alumnus of AOTS, Tokyo, Japan.

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NCE on Govt’s focus on directing public servants to private sector employment

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National Chamber of Exporters has given the a proposal to the Prime Minister and copied it to the Ministry of Public Administration, Home Affairs, Provincial Councils and Local Government on providing employment opportunities to government servants in the private sector companies for a specified period.

The Chamber said in a release: Through Media sources we got to know that The Ministry of Public Administration has appointed a committee to look into the possibility of granting five years of leave to government employees to work in the private sector.

Its states that a seven-member committee has been appointed for this purpose and that the said committee is to submit its report to the Cabinet of Ministers within two weeks.

Sri Lankan exporters are proposing to absorb public sector employees for employment in the sector to relieve the burden of wages and related costs on the Government.

The Export Sector has been able to sustain business and has also reached the pre pandemic level of an average of USD.01 billion export revenue during the period January to April 2022. Before the dawn of the pandemic, exporters were facing difficulties with lack of skilled workers. However, during the pandemic, many exporters were compelled to downsize operations and lay off employees which has created a vacuum in crucial areas of operations.

In current scenario, considering the financial burden and the reportedly excessive workforce attached to the public sector, NCE member exporters are proposing following options in reaching a win-win agreement for both government and the export sector. It is to be noted that labour requirements of exporters vary according to the relevant industry, yet in general all categories could be considered.

1. Any government employee in the permanent carder is eligible to apply for employment in the export sector, excluding from following institutions as they are involved in law enforcement in the country which may lead to conflict of interests.

a) Department of Police

b) Department of Inland Revenue

c) Department of Customs

d) Department of Excise

 2.Government to grant unpaid leave up to a maximum of 59 months.

 3.Employer will offer a “Temporary Labour Contract “to such selected individuals which include: –

 a) Period of contract for 59 months (because on completion of the 60th month, the employee will be eligible for Gratuity.)

b) Their employment will be in accordance with the laws and statutes under which the respective private sector company’s  employees of similar cadre is employed.

c) Leave entitlement as per employer’s policy on leave

d) Employment contract can be terminated with either party giving 30 days’ written notice.

e) In case of maternity leave, a number of stipulated days will be available as unpaid leave.

f)  At the end of 59 months, the government to absorb such individuals back to the public sector employment as per pertinent rules and regulations.

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