Delhi has approved Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine for emergency use. It is the third jab in India’s arsenal after Covishield and Covaxin but could this have been done earlier?
Sputnik has been approved in 59 countries. Millions of shots have already been administered. What does this say about India’s vaccination drive?
A third vaccine to tackle a second wave, India is all set to roll out Russia’s Sputnik V. A committee of experts has approved the jab for emergency use. A green light from the national regulator is just a formality now. India has approved two other shots, Covishield manufactured by the Serum Institute and Covaxin developed by Bharat Biotech. The timing of Sputnik’s approval is crucial. India is entering the business end of its vaccination drive. Next on the eligibility list is the country’s youth.
A mammoth demographic of close to 700 million people. So, a third vaccine will give India an edge but how is Sputnik-V different from Covishield and Covaxin?
Sputnik-V has a reported efficacy of 91.6 per cent. Covishield’s latest efficacy number is 79% and for Covaxin it’s 81% but experts say don’t get carried away by efficacy numbers.
Remember, all vaccines are intended to prevent hospitalisation and death not the disease itself. What about the cost?
Sputnik is priced at less than 10 dollars. It can be stored in conventional refrigerators and much like Covishield and Covaxin, it is administered in two doses. Ideally, they should be 21 days apart.
The Russian developers have signed multiple deals to produce in India. 200 million doses with Virchow Biotech and Stelis Biopharma. 100 million more from Panacea Biotec. Combined, India has the capacity to produce 850 million Sputnik doses per year.
For Indian regulators, it is expected to be a busy couple of months. Four more vaccine candidates are waiting in line, Johnson and Johnson, Novavax, Zydus Cadila’s vaccine and Bharat Biotech’s intranasal vaccine. Reports say they could all get approval by October 2021.
What’s driving this slew of approvals? Fear of shortages. The world’s pharmacy is running out of jabs. India is producing around 70 million doses per month but India’s daily vaccination rate is 3.5 million. That’s more than 105 million shots a month. The equation is simple. India needs 100 million doses but it is producing only 70 million.
India has three options here, one spend public money to boost private production, the serum institute wants 3,000 crore rupees to expand capacity, the government could oblige.
Number two, approve more vaccines like Sputnik-V and number three rope in more vaccine manufacturing centres. We’re talking about private labs and factories dedicated to other vaccines.
This call must be taken by the producers. There is a fourth more drastic option to ban vaccine exports, the global north has already done this. There is domestic pressure to freeze exports but India is keen to fulfil its global commitments. India’s policy was flawed to begin with. Two vaccines for 1.2 billion people were never going to work. The vaccine gifts and exports were added pressure. New Delhi got humanitarianism and politics right, the arithmetic not so much.
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