India will likely have access to at least two billion doses of coronavirus vaccines, a top government official said on Thursday, listing out several vaccines in development and projected enhancements in manufacturing capacity by the end of 2021.
The data presented by Niti Aayog member VK Paul, however, included eight vaccines of which only three have been approved in the country, and cited production enhancements that are beyond current estimates. Experts also said that for these doses to be available, the government will need to place purchase orders.
“The emerging scene in terms of vaccine supplies shows that we are largely dependent on two vaccines, even though Sputnik V vaccine has also been added to the basket. According to the production plan that we asked some of the companies to draw for us for a period between August and December this year, we get a provisional figure of 216 crore doses,” said Paul, while speaking at the government’s weekly briefing on Covid-19.
Paul presented a table showing production for August-December period, with the companies ostensibly giving out their figures as: Covishield (Serum Institute) – 750 million; Covaxin (Bharat Biotech) – 550 million; Biological E’s subunit vaccine – 300 million; Zydus Cadila’s DNA vaccine – 50 million; Serum Institute’s Covavax – 200 million; Bharat Biotech’s nasal vaccine – 100 millionl Gennova’s mRNA vaccine – 60 million and Sputnik V’s 15 million.
Among these, only Covishield, Covaxin and Sputnik V have been approved and Covavax’s international brand – developed by Novavax – has reached the efficacy analysis stage in phase III trials.
The projected production appeared to be significantly higher than what some of the companies have announced till now – for instance, the figures released by Paul suggests an average production of 150 million doses a month of Covishield, while the company has said it will take up production capacity to 100 million a month by July.
SII and Bharat Biotech did not respond to requests for a comment by HT.
Experts said it was too early to say these many doses will be available unless procurement orders were made.
“While we should have a reasonable expectation that the ongoing trials would be successful, we should not pre-judge them till they are completed and data are available for scrutiny both by the regulatory agency and the wider scientific community. Hope does not automatically translate to proof at this stage,” said Dr K Srinath Reddy, president, Public Health Foundation of India.
Dr Giridhara R Babu, head, epidemiology, Indian Institute of Public Health also said, “This is fantastic news if the orders are already placed for two billion doses. It is safe to count only those vaccines which are approved for use by regulatory authorities after phase 3 is successfully completed.”
According to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Zydus Cadila’s, ZyCov-D, is currently undergoing phase III human trials, Biological E’s vaccine is undergoing phase I/II human clinical trials, Bharat Biotech’s nasal vaccine is undergoing phase I human trials, SII’s Covovax is at phase II/III human trials stages, and Gennova’s mRNA based vaccine is also undergoing phase I/II human trials.
Paul urged people to remain optimistic. “You may say optimistic; yes, it is optimistic. Is there a risk? There may be; it’s quite possible because the trials are still underway but we have to remain prepared. These are all promising vaccines. It is all responsible data coming straight from the companies,” said Paul.
According to government data, so far, 356 million vaccine doses have been received by the Centre —66 million (56 million of Covishield and 10 million of Covaxin) under the PM Cares fund, 10 million under Gavi-Covax facility, 120 million purchased for phase II of the vaccination drive and 160 million under phase III. phase .
In addition to these, private hospitals and state governments have purchased 160 million more, taking the total volume of doses sourced or in the pipeline till July to 516 million.
Serum Institute’s CEO Adar Poonawalla said in recent media interviews that he was looking at ramping up capacity up to 100 million by July.
The Department of Biotechnology in April announced that, with its help, Bharat Biotech was working towards ramping up production capacity by May-June, 2021 to over 100% of their current capacity of 10 million doses a month, with a target of reaching 100 million by September 2021.
About 150,000 doses of Sputnik V have already been imported and more doses are expected in coming weeks.
“India has a great opportunity to turn around the vaccine story if these companies are invited to manufacture by collaborating with Indian companies under make in India. We have a tremendous potential to meet the needs of the whole world, especially in providing affordable vaccine to poor countries,” said Dr Babu.