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India clears AstraZeneca vaccine as dry run starts in war on Covid

India’s expert committee has approved the Covid-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University for emergency use, which clears the way for the roll out of the vaccine in the country. A nationwide dry run for testing the infrastructure in place for administering the vaccine shots also got underway on Saturday.

The Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII) has already manufactured 50 million doses of the vaccine which is ready for distribution. The government expects to inoculate 300 million of the country’s 1.35 billion people in the first six to eight months of 2021. Frontline workers such as healthcare staff and police personnel will get the shots on high priority,

The AstraZeneca-Oxford shot has the advantage of being cheaper and can be stored for long periods at normal refrigerator temperatures of 2 to 8 degrees Celsius so it is easier to handle. The Pfizer vaccine has to be kept in deep freezers at temperatures of -70 degrees Celsius making it difficult to transport and administer to the wider population.

The decision clears the vaccine’s rollout in the world’s second-most populous country which, after the United States, has the highest number of Covid-19 infections.

India’s Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) is also considering emergency-use authorisation applications for vaccines made by Pfizer Inc with Germany’s BioNTech and by India’s Bharat Biotech.

Britain became the first country this week to authorise the AstraZeneca vaccine, moving ahead of other western countries as it seeks to stem a record surge of infections driven by a highly contagious form of the virus that has also surfaced in India.

Questions about the degree of effectiveness of the AstraZeneca shot have surrounded it since data published in November showed a divergence in success rates, which the developers said reflected different dosing regimens.

Britain’s medicines regulator further clouded the picture this week when it said that it had found an 80% success rate when two full doses were administered, three months apart, higher than the average that the developers themselves had found.

UK pharma giant AstraZeneca Plc has stated that its Covid-19 vaccine should be effective against the new coronavirus strain as the structure of spike protein has not changed in this variant.

“The AstraZeneca’s vaccine candidate contains the genetic material of the SARS-CoV-2 virus spike protein, and the changes to the genetic code seen in this new viral strain do not appear to change the structure of the spike protein,” a company spokesperson had said.