India needs a Vaccine Authority
COVID has ensured that Vaccines will be needed for many years to come. And, this will call for continuing Research to develop Vaccines to deal with variants of COVID, as these evolve. No nation will be self-sufficient in research and development of Vaccines. Scientists will need to collaborate across borders, across Continents.
Apart from Research and Development, there will be issues of Intellectual Property Rights, pricing and many other issues.
For a country, the challenges will include production, distribution, export, import, quality, to mention just a few aspects. In addition, Human Resources, qualified and trained, will be crucial.
Because the Vaccine agenda will be complex and long term, expertise and specialization will be very important. For India, there are a few outstanding models to learn from. ISRO, the Indian Space Research Organisation, is one. The Atomic Energy Commission is another. These are specialized agencies, created by statute with a high degree of autonomy.
Following these models would be appropriate:
1. The Vaccine Mission to be put on a par with Space and Atomic Energy.
2. Separate Agency like ISRO and AEC to be set up.
3. This could be a similar independent Authority with a Chairman and full-time Members and staff drawn from amongst the medical profession, health researchers and scientists, primarily.
4. A separate Budget allocation may be made for this Authority.
5. PMO, Cabinet Secretariat and Finance Ministry to be part of the Board as is the case with Space and Atomic Energy. In this case, Health Ministry may also be included.
6. Terms of Reference for this organisation to include all issues relating to Vaccines, for example, research, manufacturing, distribution, pricing, export, import, quality assurance, etc etc.
Such a specialized institution will serve India’ s long and short term interests well.