Delhi has completed a full dry run as it prepares to deliver 50million doses of the Oxford vaccine that has been manufactured and stockpiled.
Experts at the country’s drugs regulator have recommended for emergency use two coronavirus vaccines, one developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University and the other backed by a state-run institute, the government said today.
The government plans to inoculate 300million people in total in the first phase of the vaccination programme, which will include healthcare and front-line workers, police and military troops and those with underlying medical conditions over age 50.
The exercise on Saturday included data entry into an online platform for monitoring vaccine delivery, along with testing of cold storage and transportation arrangements for the vaccine.
The massive exercise came a day after a government-appointed panel of experts held a meeting to review the applications of potential vaccine candidates, including front-runner Covishield, developed by Oxford University and U.K.-based drugmaker AstraZeneca.
India has confirmed more than 10.3million coronavirus cases, second in the world to the United States. More than 149,000 people have died in India, third behind the US (347,000) and Brazil (195,000).
Health officials and a volunteer take part in a dry run, also known as a mock drill, for the Covid-19 vaccine delivery at a health centre in New Delhi, India, on January 2
Indian Health Minister Harsh Vardhan (pictured centre) visits a Covid-19 vaccination centre during a vaccine delivery system trial in New Delhi, India
Health officials take part in a dry run for Covid-19 vaccine delivery with volunteers seen in a waiting room at a primary health centre in Chennai on January 2
A minister said earlier the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine had been given the green light on Friday, paving the way for a huge immunisation campaign in the world’s second most populous country.
The final decision on the two vaccines will be made by the Central Drugs Standards Control Organisation’s (CDSCO) chief, who has called a news conference tomorrow.
The process for the final approval is expected to be a formality given the urgency for a vaccine in the country.
The other vaccine, known as COVAXIN, has been developed locally by Bharat Biotech and the government-run Indian Council of Medical Research.
The shot could be approved, though little is known about the results of its clinical trials, according to sources.
The government cited the experts’ recommendation for COVAXIN, referring to the new strain of the virus first detected in Britain, stating: ‘Grant of permission for restricted use in emergency situation in public interest as an abundant precaution, in clinical trial mode, specially in the context of infection by mutant strains.’
For the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, the approval was ‘subject to multiple regulatory conditionalities’, it said, without giving details.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar told reporters earlier that two other vaccines were waiting to be approved – Zydus Cadila’s ZyCoV-D and Russia’s Sputnik V – which are both on trial in India.
An Indian health worker along with a candidate mocks the vaccination process during a dry run of the Covid-19 vaccination at a model centre in New Delhi
Health workers from Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) take part in a dry run, with staff conducting the vaccination programme at a health centre in Bangalore
A health official prepares to administer a vaccine during a mock drill for the Covid-19 vaccine delivery at a primary health centre in Kolkata on January 2
He said: ‘India is perhaps the only country where four vaccines are getting ready.’
Referring to the fact that the AstraZeneca/Oxford shot is being made locally by the Serum Institute of India (SII), he added: ‘One was approved yesterday for emergency use, Serum’s COVISHIELD.’
The AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, which was granted its first approval by the UK on Tuesday, is cheaper and easier to use than some rival shots, such as the one from Pfizer Inc.
However, it has been plagued by uncertainty about its most effective dosage ever since data published in November showed a half dose followed by a full dose had a 90 per cent success rate while two full shots were 62 per cent effective.
Indian health workers are seen during a dry run of the coronavirus vaccine at a model Covid-19 vaccine centre in New Delhi on January 2
Candidates wait at the observation area after the mock vaccination process during a dry run of the Covid vaccination in New Delhi, India
A health worker is seen inside a room with a sign reading ‘Covid-19 vaccination 2021’ at a model Covid-19 vaccination centre in New Delhi, India
India’s regulator has also received an emergency-use application for the Covid-19 vaccine made by Pfizer with Germany’s BioNTech – the first shot to secure regulatory approval in the West.
India has reported more than 10.3million Covid-19 cases and around 150,000 deaths, though its rate of infection has come down significantly from a mid-September peak.
The country hopes to inoculate 300million of its 1.35billion people in the first six to eight months of this year.
SII, the world’s biggest producer of vaccines, has already stockpiled about 50million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford shot, which will be sold to the government at about 250 rupees (£2.50) per dose and 1,000 rupees on the private market.