India: Local Covid-19 vaccine final trials could end within two months; total goes above 9.1 million

  • India
  • Monday, 23 Nov 2020

A worker pushes crates near production lines at the Hindustan Syringes factory in Faridabad, on the outskirts of New Delhi. - AFP

NEW DELHI, Nov 23 (Reuters): India's health minister announced that a a locally-developed Covid-19 vaccine candidate could complete its final trials in a month or two, raising hopes for a rapid roll-out in a country with the world's second highest number of infections.

The state-run Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and privately-held Bharat Biotech this month started third-stage trials of COVAXIN, in a process that would involve 26,000 volunteers. It is the most advanced Indian experimental vaccine.

"We are in the process of developing our indigenous vaccines, in the process of completing our third-phase trials in the next one or two months," Harsh Vardhan told a web conference on the pandemic.

He reiterated the government's plan was to immunise 200 million to 250 million Indians by July.

India has recorded 44,059 new cases of the Covid-19 (coronavirus), taking its total to 9.14 million, data from the health ministry showed on Monday (Nov 23).

India has the second-highest number of infections in the world, after the United States, but the rate of increase in India has dipped since it hit a peak in September.

New daily cases have come in at fewer than 50,000 for more than two weeks, according to a Reuters tally.

However, there has been spike of cases in New Delhi.

Meanwhile, an ICMR scientist told Reuters earlier this month the vaccine could be launched in February or March, although Bharat Biotech separately told Reuters on Friday that results of the late-stage trials were expected only between March and April.

Vardhan, however, said in September the government could opt for emergency vaccine authorisation, particularly for the elderly and people in high-risk workplaces.

Indian officials have said they expect to rely on COVAXIN and four other locally-tested candidates to control Covid-19, as they do not expect early access to sufficient quantities of those developed by Pfizer and Moderna.

The other experimental vaccines on trial in India are the one being developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University that is being manufactured by the Serum Institute of India; Russia's Sputnik-V; Zydus Cadila's ZyCoV-D and lastly one that Biological E. Ltd is developing with Baylor College of Medicine and Dynavax Technologies Corp.

Serum's CEO said on Friday the AstraZeneca vaccine could be delivered to Indian healthcare workers and the elderly by January.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a meeting on Friday to review the country's vaccine strategy. He discussed crucial issues such as prioritisation of sub-populations and tech platform for rolling out the vaccine once it is finally developed and tested. - Reuters
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