December 18 (BBC) – India plans to start vaccinating people against Covid-19 in January, federal health officials told the BBC.
Officials – who requested anonymity – said some vaccine candidates were likely to have been authorized for emergency use by the drug regulator in the “next few weeks.”
Two companies have already applied for examination and six others are in various stages of clinical trials.
The vaccination program aims to reach 300 million people by the beginning of August.
India has so far recorded nearly 10 million cases of Covid-19 and over 144,000 deaths from the disease. Vaccination plans are underway even though the infection shows clear signs of slowing down.
What vaccines are being studied?
The Covishield vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India, which collaborated with the British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca; and Covaxin, developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), have already applied for authorization.
Other candidates who are in different stages of testing to test safety and efficacy include:
- ZyCov-Di, developed by Zydus-Cadila of Ahmedabad
- Vaccine developed by Hyderabad-based Biological E, India’s first private vaccine company, in partnership with MIT
- HGCO19, the first Indian mRNA vaccine produced by Genoa of Pune in collaboration with HDT Biotech Corporation of Seattle, using fragments of genetic code to provoke an immune response
- A nasal vaccine from Bharat BioTech
- The Sputnik V vaccine candidate developed by Dr Reddy’s Lab and Gamaleya National Center in Russia
- A second vaccine was developed by the Serum Institute of India and the American vaccine development company Novavax
Four of those eight vaccines were developed in-house, officials said.
Officials also disputed media reports that India had pre-booked millions of doses from a number of vaccine manufacturers around the world, saying they are already satisfied with the country’s supplies.
They said the government was in “contact with a number of local and international vaccine manufacturers, informing them of our needs and finding out about their manufacturing capabilities.”
Two Indian vaccine manufacturers – Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, and Bharat Biotech – alone have the capacity to produce 65 million doses per month, they added.
India also has a “good supply” of vaccines, which can be quickly “converted into vials” if candidates get regulatory approvals, officials added.
How will the vaccination schedule be implemented?
About 300 million Indians will be vaccinated between January and early August, officials said.
It will start with an estimated 10 million health workers, followed by policemen, soldiers, municipal workers and other frontline workers.
The next groups eligible for vaccinations would include people over and under the age of 50 with underlying conditions and comorbidities, officials said.
India already runs the largest immunization program in the world, inoculating more than 40 million newborns and pregnant women against 12 diseases each year. It also has a well-oiled electronic system for storing and tracking these vaccines.
How does India intend to vaccinate 1 billion people?
Officials said 154,000 of the country’s 223,000 nurses and midwives engaged in this program will be employed to administer Covid vaccines to people. It will also invite senior nursing students to volunteer.
Around 29,000 existing cold rooms would be used for vaccine storage: almost all vaccines must be transported and distributed between 2 ° C and 8 ° C in what includes the so-called cold chain.
Officials said extreme cold storage chain facilities – down to -80 ° C – are already available at a number of agricultural and livestock research centers in Haryana, Karnataka and West Bengal, among other locations.
There were concerns about how India would monitor “adverse events” following immunization after a controversy involving a vaccine volunteer suing the Serum Institute of India after he reportedly fell ill. following a test shot.
“We will have to be transparent and deal with such adverse events. A standard operating procedure has been developed for this, “said an official.