India approved two Covid-19 vaccines AstraZeneca-Oxford University’s Covishield and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin on Sunday.
India set out on an ambitious journey on Monday by undertaking what Prime Minister Modi called the world’s largest mass immunization program. The mammoth effort follows the government’s approval of two Covid-19 vaccines—one by AstraZeneca-Oxford University’s Covishield manufactured by Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII), and the other, Bharat Biotech’s locally conceived Covaxin. Both vaccines are approved for restricted emergency use by the Drug Controller General of India (DGCI).
The emergency approval is a crucial step for India to combat the spread of coronavirus that has infected more than 10 million people within the country. The country with a population of 1.35 billion plans to administer the vaccine to 300 million frontline workers, elderly and vulnerable people by August.
A day after the vaccines were approved for emergency use, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at the National Metrology Conclave via videoconference that India is on the threshold of starting the largest vaccination drive in the world. Modi said: “World’s biggest Covid-19 vaccination program set to begin in India. For this, the country is proud of the contributions of its scientists and technicians.” He also stated how quality is as important as quantity and Indian standards should rise in the quest for Aatmanirbhar Bharat.
The vaccine approval announcement for homegrown vaccine Covaxin has not been without criticism and skepticism, both from experts and the political opposition. Serum Institute of India CEO Adar Poonawala in a television interview on Sunday stated that there were only three vaccines with proven efficacy—Pfizer, Moderna, and Oxford-Zeneca, while the rest were “safe, like water.” Leaders of the Indian National Congress and Samajwadi Party also said the vaccine was prematurely released.
Soon after the vaccine announcement, Indian Congress leader Shashi Tharoor tweeted that the approval of Covaxin was premature and could be dangerous as it hasn’t completed Phase 3 trials.
Indian Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan tweeted late on Sunday that emergency use authorization (EUA) for Covaxin is differently conditional in clinical trial mode and the EUA for Covaxin is different from Covishield as its use will be in clinical trial mode.
On Monday, the man of the moment, Chairman and Managing Director of Bharat Biotech Dr Krishna Ella, rebutted the accusations that his company’s vaccine Covaxin received. “We don’t deserve this backlash,” he said while asking people to not politicize the matter. “We do 200% honest clinical trials and yet we receive backlash. If I am wrong, tell me. Some companies have branded our vaccine-like water. I want to deny that. We are scientists.”
Ella also announced that Covaxin will be effective on the mutant strain, adding that the company will be able to establish the hypothesis of the candidate’s ability to protect against the mutations within a week.
Indian Americans have complimented Bharat Biotech for their remarkable success in producing the Covid-19 vaccine indigenously while making health care affordable to the public.
The World Health Organization (WHO) also welcomed the emergency vaccine approval.