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India Scrambles to Ramp Up Vaccine Production Ahead of Possible Third COVID Wave

© REUTERS / AMIT DAVEA healthcare worker reacts as she receives the second dose of COVISHIELD, a COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by Serum Institute of India, at a hospital in Ahmedabad, India, February 15, 2021
A healthcare worker reacts as she receives the second dose of COVISHIELD, a COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by Serum Institute of India, at a hospital in Ahmedabad, India, February 15, 2021 - Sputnik International, 1920, 14.05.2021
From increasing the gap between each jab to scaling up vaccine production, India's federal government is desperately trying to vaccinate the country's 1.39 billion-strong population before another potentially devastating COVID-19 wave hits the country.

With concerns over a possible third wave of COVID-19 sweeping through India in the coming months, the federal government is racing against time to inoculate its vast population with the first dose. 

To do so, the federal government is scaling up production of approved vaccines while green-lighting other options that will soon hit the market. The government on Thursday also increased the wait between the first and second doses of the Covishield vaccine from eight weeks to 16 weeks in a bid to get more people inoculated with the first dose. 

Dr Bhavneet Bharti, a leading vaccination expert and head of a government hospital in Punjab state, told Sputnik, "It is imperative that the maximum number of people are given the vaccination, including children, ahead of the next wave of COVID-19 in the country. This is our only hope of beating the virus."

This week, the country's COVID task force also cleared vaccine trials for children aged two to 18, who  experts have warned will be more vulnerable during the next wave of COVID-19, which is predicted to hit the country in September

On Thursday, Dr VK Paul from Niti Ayog, a government-backed public policy think tank, said that over two billion doses of vaccines will be made in the country in the next five months, enough to inoculate the country's entire population.

"By the first quarter of the next year the number is likely to be three billion. There should be no doubt that a vaccine will be available for all as we move forward," said Dr Paul. 

Second Home-Developed Indian Vaccine to Hit Market Soon 

The government is looking at newer vaccines entering the market to bridge the demand-supply gap. 

ZyCOV-D, India's second vaccine developed on home soil after Bharat Biotech's Covaxin, will be supplied from June. About 240 million doses of ZyCOV-D, produced by pharmaceutical firm Zydus Cadilla, will be on the market within a year. 

The drug maker will submit the vaccine's efficacy data to the country's drug regulator, Drugs Controller General of India, by the end of this month. Dr Sharvil Patel, managing director of Zydus Cadila, told the media that the company is expecting the three-dose recombinant DNA vaccine will be made available by next month "as it is close to getting approved."

"Initially we will begin with producing 10 million doses a month and eventually scale up to double the capacity to 20 million doses a month," said Dr Patel. About 28,000 people have been trailed for its efficacy, including the elderly, people with comorbidity, and children aged 12-17. 

India Scaling Up Production of Indigenous Vaccine Covaxin

Covaxin producer Bharat Biotech will ramp up production by involving other players. Confirming this, Dr Paul said that three state-owned units have been roped in by the government to double output by June.

"The current production capacity of indigenously developed Covaxin will be doubled by May-June 2021 and then increased nearly 6-7 fold by July-August. This means that the production from 10 million doses in April will go up to 65 million in July-August. It is expected to reach nearly 10 crore doses per month by September," a statement by the Department of Biotechnology, under Mission COVID Suraksha (Protection) said. 

The state units ushered in to scale up production are Haffkine Biopharmaceutical Corporation Limited, Indian Immunologicals Limited, and Bharat Immunologicals and Biologicals Limited.

Delhi Chief Arvind Kejriwal, who has launched a scathing attack against the federal government's handling of the pandemic, welcomed the move in a tweet. 

The Indian government's decision to extend the duration between the first and second dose of the Covishield vaccine is a reasonable approach, top US infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci said in an interview with news agency ANI. he added that the government's move will help ensure more people receive at least one dose of the vaccine.

"When you are in a very difficult situation, the way you are in India, you have to try and figure out ways to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as you can, so I believe that it is a reasonable approach to do. It is unlikely that a long delay would have a negative effect on vaccine efficacy."
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