India A Step Closer To Covid Vaccine, Drug Regulator Approval Awaited

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India has logged over 1.3 crore cases of coronavirus so far.

New Delhi: India has moved a step closer to getting a coronavirus vaccine as two candidates - Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech's Covaxin and the Serum Institute of India's Covishield - have been recommended by a government-appointed panel to the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) for emergency use in the last two days. The country has been preparing for the vaccine rollout for the last four months, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Saturday as he reviewed the dry run in Delhi. An "end-to-end mock drill" on the vaccine administration was conducted in all the states and union territories on Saturday, an exercise compared by the Health Minister to holding elections. DCGI chief Dr Venugopal G Somani is expected to share details about the vaccine candidates today at 11 AM.

Here is your ten-point cheat sheet on this big story:

Covaxin, India's first indigenous vaccine developed by Hyderabad-based Biotech with backing from top medical body Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), was recommended for emergency use by the expert panel to the DCGI on Saturday. The recommendation comes despite the lack of efficacy data at this time for Covaxin, which has completed only two of three trial phases. The third phase of trials started in November.

On Friday, the expert panel had recommended Covishield, developed by Pune-based Serum Institute of India in partnership with the Oxford University and pharma major AstraZeneca. Adar Poonawalla, CEO of the Serum Institute, said to be the world's largest vaccine maker, had earlier said the "majority of the first 50 million doses will go to India".

The vaccine will "protect 95 per cent of (its) patients", Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca CEO, said last week. However, AstraZeneca, a British-Swedish pharma giant, has yet to release data confirming these claims. Interim results of Phase III trials released last month showed a 70 per cent efficacy rate as the average of two dosing regimens. 

A third vaccine - developed by American pharma giant Pfizer - had also applied for emergency fuse authorisation and is currently being reviewed by the panel. Sources, however, have said that the company has yet to present its data before the panel.

Around one crore healthcare workers and 2 crore frontline workers will get free vaccine in the first phase of rollout, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Saturday.

"There should be no rumours about the vaccine's safety...Everything has been checked in detail. Initially when the polio vaccine was rolled out, even then rumours had floated. But once it went on the floor, all people were assured about the safety," he told reporters

In Delhi, the vaccine will be provided "free of cost". " The vaccine will be provided free of cost in Delhi. 1000 centers will be set up for this task. 1 lakh people from phase-1 will be vaccinated on a daily basis. Delhi Govt is completely ready for the rollout," Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain tweeted on Saturday.

India is gearing to rollout a vaccine at a time when a new strain of coronavirus - first detected in the United Kingdom in September has led to a fresh wave of restrictions worldwide. Top medical body ICMR said on Saturday it has successfully cultured the new coronavirus strain. In a tweet, the ICMR claimed that no country has yet reported successful isolation and culture of the UK-variant of SARS-CoV-2.

The United Kingdom, United States, China, Russia and several other nations have already begun a vaccine rollout. Over 4.2 million have been vaccinated in US, news agency AFP reported. In UK, AstraZenaca is hoping to vaccinate over 2 million a week.

India's Covid tally has surged to 1.03 crore, the second highest number of cases in the world after the United States. More than 99 lakh people have recovered, 1.49 lakh have died after contracting the virus.


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