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India set to become Covid-19 vaccine heavyweight

After showcasing its heft as the “pharmacy of the world” by bulk exporting Hydroxychloroquine and paracetamol tablets in the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, India is now positioning itself as one of the global leaders of a vaccine to combat the deadly virus.

India now appears set to produce a slew of Covid-19 vaccines by the end of this month. The Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII)–the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer by the number of doses—has sought the Drug Controller General of India’s (DCGI) approval for emergency use authorisation of Covid-19 vaccine that the company is developing with the University of Oxford and British drug-maker AstraZeneca. SII is the second pharmaceutical major in the world to have sought approval after American firm Pfizer.

“As promised before the end of 2020, @SerumInstIndia has applied for emergency use authorisation for the first made-in-India vaccine, COVISHIELD,” Adar Poonawalla, SII’s chief executive officer tweeted, thanking Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his support.

Poonawalla added that “this will save countless lives.”

Co-sponsored by Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), currently the phase-three clinical trial of Covishield is underway across the country.

SII has already produced about 40 million doses of the vaccine under the at-risk manufacturing and stockpiling license of the DCGI. “This will ensure that no time is wasted in launching the vaccine once the necessary approvals come from the authorities,” a government official on condition of anonymity said.

"India's vaccination drive would begin as soon as we get a go-ahead from scientists. The Centre is working on the basis of suggestions from state governments about who will be inoculated in the first phase of the vaccination drive," Modi said at an all-party meeting on Friday. The Prime Minister added that priority would be given to healthcare workers especially those treating coronavirus patients, frontline workers and old people suffering from serious conditions.

Data from four clinical studies, two in the UK and one each in Brazil and India, shows that Covishield is highly efficacious against symptomatic and most importantly against severe Covid-19 infections.

Besides SII, Bharat Biotech, Zydus Cadila and Biological E are among those developing a Covid 19 vaccine.

<strong>India’s role in drug management and diplomacy</strong>

India is already a vaccine superpower. Aided by lower prices, India is already a supplier over 50 per cent of global demand for various vaccines, 40 per cent of generic demand in the US and 25 per cent of all medicine in the UK, according to India Brand Equity Foundation.

Amid expectations of an early launch of a vaccine, about 80 ambassadors and high commissioners from different countries will visit the Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech and BE limited to understand the situation better. The high profile visit signifies India’s primacy in vaccine development.

Once launched, the Covid 19 vaccine will be made available for domestic consumption but insiders said that within a few months, India will be in a position to supply the same to other countries, especially its neighbours..