India’s vaccination policy took another turn with an announcement from PM Narendra Modi and global leaders came forward to commit shots for the wider world to help countries everywhere beat the pandemic. Here’s how the vaccine stakes stood this week.
Free Vaccines For All
The week opened with PM Modi announcing on Monday that, come June 21, the Centre will provide free Covid-19 vaccines to states for all above 18 years of age. “From 21 June, in every state for all citizens above the age of 18 years, the government will provide free vaccines to the states," the prime minister said.
Centre will now buy 75 per cent of the total vaccine output for India and pass it on to the state governments without charge. The existing policy that had been rolled out on May 1 had required that the states buy 25 per cent of the vaccines for the 18-45 age group while the Centre picked up half of all the vaccines procured in India.
The remaining 25 per cent of the vaccines produced in India can be procured by private hospitals, who can administer these to people who are willing to pay for their shots. However, the Centre also said that private hospitals can only collect a maximum of Rs 150 as service charge over and above the stipulated price of the vaccine.
A Vaccine That You Can Spray
The fear of needles is known to hold people back from taking a vaccine. But there may be a solution at hand as the Prime Minister also announced during his speech that a nasal spray vaccine is being developed against Covid-19. “Research is going on for a nasal spray vaccine, which if successful can significantly boost India’s vaccination drive," he said.
Bharat Biotech is among the pharma firms working on such a vaccine. According to reports in May, the company is looking to complete the second and third phase clinical trials of the vaccine in the next 3-4 months and launch the nasal spray vaccine in about 6 months from now. The makers said that BBV154 — as Bharat Biotech’s nasal spray is called — is a novel adenovirus vector intranasal vaccine.
The company said that the USP of the nasal spray vaccine is that it can secure an immune response at the site of infection, which in the case of the novel coronavirus is the nasal spray where the virus attacks human cells.
Apart from preventing infection, a nasal spray vaccine can also help to check transmission of the virus. Further, this method eliminates the need for syringes and needles and neither does it require trained healthcare workers to administer it, representing lower costs for a vaccination drive that uses the nasal spray.
1 Billion Doses For Poorer Countries
When will the pandemic end? If the G7 grouping of the world’s wealthiest nations has its way, Covid-19 will not trouble humanity beyond 2022. As a step in that direction the leaders of the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada — the G7 member states — said at this week’s summit in UK’s Cornwall that they will be donating 1 billion vaccines to poorer nations.
The likes of the UK and US have already committed doses for international distribution. Britain has announced it will hand out at least 100 million surplus coronavirus vaccines next year while the US has said it will donate 500 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot.
But while the pledge to share vaccines was widely hailed, campaigners have said that it might be too little when the challenge is to root out Covid-19. Activists have argued that what is needed is for the pharma majors, most of whom are based in the G7 countries, to waive intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines so that they can be manufactured around the world. That would be a more effective way, activists say, of putting vaccines into every arm.
A Setback For Covaxin in US
The US drug regulator this week refused to consider Covaxin for emergency use authorisation in their country and suggested that it should seek a full launch license instead.
The US Food and Drug Administration FDA) is reported to have “recommended" that Ocugen Inc, the US partner of Bharat Biotech, to take the Biologics Licence Application (BLA) route for approval. That would mean the company has to submit additional data for its vaccine, which would stretch the process of its rollout in the US. Ocugen has said that it will now go for a BLA, which is nothing but he “full approval" mechanism for drugs and vaccines in the US.