In a major step in the fight against Covid-19, India’s drug regulator has approved the Covishield vaccine for emergency use on Friday. This is the first such Covid vaccine approval in India.
The Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) led expert committee has given the approval the Oxford-AstraZeneca developed Covishield vaccine on certain conditions during a meeting chaired to consider the applications of Serum Institute, Bharat Biotech and Pfizer for emergency use approval of the Covid-19 vaccine. The committee decided after aggressively analysing the data presented before them.
According to data, the Covidishield vaccine has shown an average efficacy of 70.4% with no severe diseases or hospitalization. After the United Kingdom and Argentina approved the AstraZeneca vaccine, the Indian drug regulator asked Pune based Serum Institute of India (SII) to present the updated data. SII and Oxford-AstraZeneca signed an agreement to produce nearly 1 billion doses of the vaccine for middle and lower-income nations. AstraZeneca has said that authorization is for two doses administered with an interval between four to 12 weeks.
Reportedly, the vaccine is supposed to be cheaper and much easier to distribute comparing to its rivals. The other positive about this vaccine is that it can be stored in regular refrigeration temperatures in comparison to Pfizer and Moderna vaccines as they have to be stored in -70C and -20C respectively.
Reportedly, Serum Institute has 75 million doses ready to move and will be scaling up manufacturing of more doses soon.
Serum Institute, AstraZeneca and Oxford University partnered to develop ‘Covishield’. Bharat Biotech partnered with Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in developing ‘Covaxin’. On Wednesday, the panel of experts met to consider the applications. Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech have put forward their presentations before the panel on Wednesday. However, Pfizer had sought additional time to present their data before the expert panel.
Now that the expert panel has cleared the vaccine, the applications will be forwarded to Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) for final approval. Once DCGI gives the final approval, the central government can start administrating the vaccine immediately. With the new coronavirus strain detected in various cities in India and more samples being analysed, the government is eager to administer the vaccine as soon as possible.
Earlier, the Union Health Ministry said that Centre never spoke of vaccinating the entire country. “I just want to make it clear that the government has never spoken about vaccinating the entire country,” said Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan during a press conference in the first week of December.
Reportedly, only 19.5% of the population will be vaccinated. The 19.5% consists of the group of people above 50 years of age, chronic critical illness patients, frontline workers and healthcare workers who will be the first recipients of the Covid-19.
This means that states with a huge number of people above 50 years will be getting larger doses of the Covid-19. According to several reports, states such as Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu are likely to receive more doses of Covid-19 vaccine than other states, as a huge number of people above the age of 50 years are residing in these states. However, Kerala is also likely to get more vaccine doses as the state has the highest percentage of people with diabetes and hypertension, according to data from the National Family Health Survey of 2019-20.
Director-General of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Balram Bhargava had said that if the government can break the chain of the virus by vaccinating a critical mass of people, there is no need to vaccinate the entire population. “It would depend on the effectiveness of the vaccine as our purpose is to break the chain of virus transmission. If we’re able to vaccinate a good number of the people and break the virus transmission, then we may not have to vaccinate the entire population,” he stated, adding that the effectiveness of the vaccine is a problem. It can be 60% effective in some individuals and 70% in others. This will lead the public to go into a dilemma when it comes to immunisation. Bhargava has asked the public to continue wearing masks even after vaccination.
Earlier, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had chaired an all-party meeting to discuss the Coronavirus situation in India. The Prime Minister has said that around eight vaccines are currently at different stages of the trial, and once they are ready, it will be released. On this background, the opposition leaders have raised their demand for a free cost Covid-19 vaccine for everyone in India. Several other leaders have even raised questions regarding the pricing of the Covid-19 vaccine.
The Congress and Shiv Sena demanded that the vaccine should be supplied among large sections of the public. Also, leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad, has steered clear about it during the deliberations. Azad expressed his hope that the vaccine would be supplied without delay. Chhattisgarh was the state to raise the demand for free Covid vaccine. On Wednesday, Bhupesh Baghel, Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, wrote a letter to Modi demanding that the vaccine be supplied on a priority basis to the state. In a letter, he said, “Chhattisgarh is completely ready to implement the Covid-19 vaccination programme. I urge you that for this, Chhattisgarh, a tribal-dominated state, should be given priority for being included in the first phase, and the vaccine should be made available for free.”
He further added, “I am confident that you will consider my request for providing free and priority access to vaccines for Chhattisgarh.”
Senior Congress and Shiv Sena leaders from Maharashtra have demanded that the Union government should make a promise to provide free Covid-19 vaccine in Maharashtra since the BJP had promised free Covid-19 vaccine in Bihar as a poll issue. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi took a dig at the BJP's vaccine promise through Twitter.
The other state that has already raised the same demand is Telangana. Senior leaders of Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) have urged the Centre to supply free of cost Covid-19 vaccine to Hyderabad on a priority basis.
Madhya Pradesh and Assam governments have also declared that they would also provide free of cost Covid-19 vaccine. Even Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami had said that once the vaccine is ready for usage, the government will provide the vaccine free of cost to all the people of the state.