India has approved the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, paving the way for a huge vaccination campaign in the world’s second most populous country.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar told reporters on Saturday that the vaccine had been given the green light on Friday, confirming which sources close to the matter had told Reuters.
It is the first COVID-19 vaccine approved for emergency use by India, which has the highest number of infections after the United States, and will arrive on the same day as the country runs a nationwide practice exercise for vaccine delivery.
Javadekar said at least three more vaccines were awaiting approval – the local company Bharat Biotch’s COVAXIN, Zydus Cadilas’ ZyCoV-D and Russia’s Sputnik-V.
“India is perhaps the only country where at least four vaccines are being prepared,” he said.
“One was approved yesterday for emergency use, Serums COVISHIELD.” he said, referring to the fact that the AstraZeneca / Oxford shot is made locally by the Serum Institute of India (SII).
India’s Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) is expected to announce the dose and other details about the shot later. SII had applied for a two-dose program at approximately 28-day intervals.
Cheaper and easier
The AstraZeneca / Oxford vaccine, which received its first approval from the UK on Tuesday, is cheaper and easier to use than some rival shots – major benefits of tackling a pandemic that has claimed 1.8 million lives worldwide.
However, it has been plagued by uncertainty about the most effective dose since data published in November showed that a half dose followed by a full dose was 90% successful while two full shots were 62% effective.
The Indian regulator has also received an emergency application for the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer Inc with Germany’s BioNTech – the first shot to secure regulatory approval in the West.
India has reported more than 10 million COVID-19 cases, although the rate of infection has dropped significantly from a peak in mid-September.
The country hopes to inoculate 300 million of its 1.35 billion people in the first six to eight months of this year.
SII, the world’s largest producer of vaccines, has already stored around 50 million doses of the AstraZeneca / Oxford shot, which will be sold to the government at around 250 rupees ($ 3.42) per dose and 1,000 rupees on the private market.