India's local Covid vaccine trials may end in 2 months

Final trials of India's local Covid-19 vaccine can end within two months

Health Minister Harsh Vardhan reiterated that the government's plan is to immunise 200 million to 250 million Indians by July

Representative image. Credit: iStock

Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Sunday that a locally-developed Covid-19 vaccine candidate could complete its final trials in a month or two, raising hopes for a rapid roll-out across the country.

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and Bharat Biotech this month started third-stage trials of COVAXIN, in a process that would involve 26,000 volunteers. It is the most advanced Indian experimental vaccine.

"We are in the process of developing our indigenous vaccines, in the process of completing our third-phase trials in the next one or two months," Harsh Vardhan told a web conference on the pandemic.

He reiterated that the government's plan is to immunise 200 million to 250 million Indians by July.

Read: AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine shot is key to escaping Covid-19 pandemic for many nations like India

An ICMR scientist told Reuters earlier this month that the vaccine could be launched in February or March, although Bharat Biotech separately told Reuters on Friday that results of the late-stage trials were expected only between March and April.

Vardhan, however, said in September that the government could opt for emergency vaccine authorisation, particularly for the elderly and people in high-risk workplaces.

Officials have said that they expect to rely on COVAXIN and four other locally-tested candidates to control Covid-19, as they do not expect early access to sufficient quantities of those developed by Pfizer and Moderna.

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The other experimental vaccines on trial in India are the one being developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University that is being manufactured by the Serum Institute; Russia's Sputnik-V; Zydus Cadila's ZyCoV-D and lastly one that Biological E. Ltd is developing with Baylor College of Medicine and Dynavax Technologies Corp.

Serum's CEO said on Friday that the AstraZeneca vaccine could be delivered to the country's healthcare workers and the elderly by January.

India on Sunday recorded 45,209 new infections, taking the total to over 90 lakhs, only behind that of the United States. Deaths rose by 501 to 133,227, with Delhi recording the highest number of daily fatalities in the country over the last few days.