India approves two vaccines, roll out soon

Krishna N. Das and Aftab Ahmed
·2-min read

India's drugs regulator have approved for emergency use two coronavirus vaccines, one developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University and the other by local company Bharat Biotech and a state-run institute.

The decisions mark the first vaccine approvals in India, which after the United States has recorded the most infections of COVID-19, and could enable the country to source vaccines locally.

India is expected to start a massive immunisation programme within about a week, and hopes to inoculate 300 million of its 1.35 billion people free of charge in the first six to eight months of this year.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi welcomed the approvals.

"It would make every Indian proud that the two vaccines that have been given emergency use approval are made in India!" he said on Twitter, calling it a sign of a "self-reliant" country.

India has reported more than 10.3 million COVID-19 cases and around 150,000 deaths, although its infection rate has come down significantly from a mid-September peak.

The AstraZeneca shot, already approved in Britain, Argentina and El Salvador, will take the lead in India and Bharat Biotech's COVAXIN will be administered under stricter conditions given no efficacy data has been released for it.

The Indian government has yet to sign a formal deal for the AstraZeneca vaccine with its local maker, Serum Institute of India (SII), although this is expected within days. SII has stockpiled 50 million doses.

Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Twitter India was ready for a "quick and equitable" distribution of vaccines.

SII expects the government to buy 100 million doses from it in the next two months and restrict exports until then, Chief Executive Adar Poonawalla said.

By August, it aims to provide 300 million doses and has also seen interest from African and Asian countries including Bangladesh.