India claims to be able to produce over a quarter-million COVID vaccines in less than two months
COVID 19 vaccine India news
For a couple of last months, the country has been struggling with a massive COVID outbreak taking hundreds of thousands of lives daily. The government found itself in an uncomfortable position forced to take hasty decisions. To respond to the current deteriorating situation the Indian government stated that the country will produce 20-25 crore of vaccines (more than 250 million) in the nearest couple of months with more to come in September.
The sources claim that only in June the SII (Serum Institute of India) delivered 12 crores of vaccines to the government, not more than a month after its loud statement to do so, despite the information regarding the shortage of vaccines syringes. The SII representative in the official letter to the Home Minister said that their employees work 24/7, despite the difficulties set forth by the pandemic.
“It is to our joy that we have informed the government that our manufacturing plant will produce 9-10 crore of vaccines in June, which is a considerable rise in manufacturing capacity in comparison with May, when we produced about 7 crores of doses,” stated the Director of government relations of SII, Prakash Kumar Singh.
It is worth emphasizing that at present time there are two Indian-made vaccines: Covaxin and Covishield. The already mentioned SII manufactures the latter, while Covaxin is produced by their main competitors ‒ Bharat Biotech.
The government has been known to order both of them in large doses; sometimes the orders making up to 400 billion doses each.
The third vaccine that is being used now is the Russian-made one ‒ Sputnik-V. It was not so long ago approved by the General Drug Control department for use in emergencies. Three million doses were already bought from Moscow.
In the meantime, the country has suffered an anti-record of COVID cases per day reaching the half-a-million mark. With the use of vaccines, the situation becomes better, but India is not out of the woods yet. The death toll reaches the mark of 400,000, while the death rate dropped significantly in comparison with the last year, and now stands at no more than 1.3%. As well, the total number of COVID tests in the country now is more than 35 million.
How many more doses can India procure?
The coronavirus vaccine news claim that to vaccinate adults, India now plans to get 2 billion doses between August and December. According to the most recent population count, the number of people over 18 years old reaches the mark of 1 billion, which is quite a lot.
However, only two of the eight vaccines manufactured locally have undergone a full approval procedure and are legible for use. Two more types now are subject to early stages of clinical tests, and three more somewhere in the finals, however still far away from being approved. “The government obviously cannot be counting on the unapproved ones,” stated the public health expert, Dr. Chandrakant Lahariya, “We should focus on enlarging the manufacturing capacities of the existing ones.”
The SII plans to produce 250 million Covovax and 700 million Covishield vaccines. The last one being the new type of Novavax, still unapproved.
Bharat Biotech on the other hand also speeded up its production capabilities and plan to make 500 million Covaxin and 100 million vaccines of the new intranasal type, which is undergoing early clinical trials at the moment. The company received an additional budget from the government (that making 400$ million for production of Covaxin and 200$ million) for the development of the new vaccine and to speed up the production.
These target numbers are still too far away from the aim of the government to cover the full population and produce 2 billion vaccines between August and December.
To get even more COVID vaccines India also discusses the importation of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines from foreign countries. However, they still have their ground to cover, so no help can be expected till late Autumn.
Deficit of raw materials
The whole production industry for vaccination was struck by the deficit of raw materials due to the decree of the US President aimed at giving preference to the US companies. That means that local US manufacturers first get access to raw materials.
However, due to the heavy deterioration of the pandemic situation in India, the US granted the delivery of the limited number of raw materials needed for the production of country-made vaccines in India.
However, the SII claims it still suffers from an insufficient number of materials. Experts say that in fact, the chain of supply of raw materials for medicine manufacturing is quite more complicated than anything else. Irrespective of the worldwide need for working vaccines, the new manufacturers won’t be instantly arising from anywhere. Even if so, they will not be credible enough.
Tempo of vaccinating
The vaccination campaign was initiated by the Indian government at the beginning of the year with over two hundred million doses manufactured by local companies.
The highest level of vaccination activity was spotted in April, with the top mark hitting 3.5 million doses used. However, later the figures have been dropping until recently.
“The vaccine delivery to people is being driven by the chain of supply and it should not be neglected. The vaccines should be given to citizens before it’s too late,” states Dr. Chandrakant Lahariya in his interview with BBC.
With the speed of vaccination India has now, it will take up to 2 years to provide the whole nation with vaccines. And some parts of the country have already claimed that the low-risk age group (18-40 y.o.) will have to wait for vaccines a little longer, due to the deficit of supplies.
The strong need for vaccination inside the country made the government cease all exports starting from March. Even though the contribution of some small numbers of the Covax vaccines has been allowed in exclusive situations, it’s highly questionable that the big-scale exportations are possible in the nearest time. SII has been crystal clear in its statement that the company does not anticipate the initiation of an exporting program until the end of the year.
Today, India faces a difficult struggle with increasing COVID cases, which led the government to extreme actions. In its plan for immunization, India aims to provide almost all the adult population with vaccines in the shortest period, which has become the main priority of the government. People now count on the internal pharmaceutical companies to help them out, while not much help is expected from the outside. For now, it looks like India is on its own.