The Centre has now decided to handhold Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech in boosting the production of Covaxin, the country’s first and only indigenous Covid vaccine approved by the drug regulator. This is in the wake of a ferocious second wave of the pandemic that has hit India very hard.
After giving nod to Mumbai-based Haffkine Institute to produce Covaxin on a technology transfer basis following a plea by the Maharashtra government, the Union government has now decided to provide Rs 65 crore financial support to Bharat Biotech’s Bengaluru facility, government sources said.
Covaxin, apart from Covishield by the Serum Institute of India (SII), is the only available Covid vaccine in the country but its share has been fairly limited, just 15% of about 11.75 crore doses administered, owing to its limited supply.
A senior official in the department of science and technology said that the government will also provide Rs 65 crore aid to the Maharashtra based pharma firm, too.
The government is apparently looking to ensure that at least 2 crore Covaxin doses per month are available by May-June and 6-7 crore doses of Covaxin are produced per month by July-August. The current production capacity of Bharat Biotech is about 1 crore per month.
Another officicial said that by September, the government is expecting to raise the production to up to 10 crore doses a month.
For this, negotiations have already begun with at least two more companies –Indian Immunologicals Ltd (Hyderabad) and BIBCOL (Bulandshehar) whose facilities can be used to manufacture Covaxin.
The development comes as it becomes increasingly clear that a rapid and aggressive expansion in daily vaccination numbers may be the only plausible answer to control a raging pandemic which is now leading to over 2 lakh fresh Covid cases every day.
The Centre’s move to rely on increasing Covaxin production in the country may also be stemming from the fact that no foreign-made vaccines may be immediately available for India despite a recently announced policy to fast track vaccines approved in the US, UK, European Union, Japan or the WHO without the usual bridging clinical trials.
Apart from the Russian Sputnik V, which has tied up with Hyderabad’s Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, and has recently been granted restricted use permission in India, no foreign Covid vaccines, however, are likely to be available for the Indian population over the next few months.
Incidentally, SII CEO Adar Poonawalla also took to Twitter on Friday to appeal to the US government to lift the embargo of raw material exports out of the US that has hit the Covishield production.