A minister from the Indian state of Assam and a senior member of the nation's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has disclosed that the country won't have a COVID-19 vaccine before March next year.
"According to details available from the Prime Minister's Office, we won't have a vaccine before March-April," said Himanta Biswa Sarma, the cabinet minister in Assam state government, while addressing a press conference in the state's biggest city, Guwahati, on Monday.
Sarma went on to list the five vaccine programmes at present under scrutiny in India — ZyCoV-D by Zydus Cadila, COVAXIN by Bharat Biotech, Sputnik V, Biological E, and Covishield, which Serum Institute of India has partnered with British pharmaceutical major AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford to develop.
As far as Sputnik V vaccine is concerned, the Russia Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) announced last week that more than 100 million doses of the Russia-developed vaccine would be produced in India starting 2021 by pharma giant Hetero.
“All these vaccine development programmes are in the second or third stage,” Sarma said, adding that the state authorities were in regular touch with Prime Minister Narendra Modi through video-conferencing.
Phase II trials involve administering the vaccine to a particular group of people of similar age and health characteristics for whom the vaccine is intended, whereas Phase III trials are tested on a broader group of candidates to establish efficacy and safety.
Sarma’s update on India’s vaccine development programme came after Modi paid a weekend visit to three vaccine development facilities — Zydus Biotech Park in Ahmedabad, Bharat Biotech in Hyderabad, and Serum Institute of India in Pune — to gauge the country's progress.
Had a good interaction with the team at Serum Institute of India. They shared details about their progress so far on how they plan to further ramp up vaccine manufacturing. Also took a look at their manufacturing facility. pic.twitter.com/PvL22uq0nl— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) November 28, 2020
The Serum Institute, tipped as the world’s largest vaccine production facility, is said to be in the process of developing five potential COVID vaccines.
Earlier this week, its chief executive Adar Poonawalla claimed that 100 million doses of the Oxford COVID-19 vaccine would be available by January and more could be produced the next month, provided the Indian regulators gave a go-ahead to the process.
The efforts to develop an effective COVID-19 vaccine are said to have been galvanised by Modi’s weekend visit, as the South Asian country grapples with the second-worst COVID caseload in the world.
Several countries, including Russia and the US, are at present expecting to roll-out the vaccine for mass use this year. US President Donald Trump reportedly claimed on the weekend that his administration would roll out COVID-19 vaccine for frontline medical workers and troops in the coming days.