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UK rolls out Oxford vaccine shots as India poised to follow suit

Britain on Monday rolled out the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine with an 82-year-old dialysis patient, Brian Pinker, becoming the first person to receive the shot, according to a <em>BBC</em> report.

More than half a million doses of the vaccine were ready for use on Monday. UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it was a "pivotal moment" in the UK's fight against the virus, as vaccines will help curb infections and then allow restrictions to be lifted.

India has also approved the vaccine, 50 million doses of which have already been manufactured and stockpiled by the Pune-based Serum Institute of India in collaboration with UK pharma giant AstraZeneca. Dry runs for administering the vaccine have already been carried out in India and the formal roll out will begin very soon, officials said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday called the approval for the Covid-19 vaccines produced by Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech, a decisive turning point to strengthen the country’s
spirited fight against Corona.

Serum Institute of India CEO Adar Poonawalla said in an interview that the emergency use approval for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was granted on the condition that the company does not export the shots to ensure that the vulnerable in India are protected.

Poonawalla said that the company has also been barred from selling the vaccine on the private market. "We can only give the vaccines to the government of India at the moment," he said.

The first 100 million doses are being sold to the Indian government at a 'special price' of Rs 200 or $2.74. Prices subsequently will be higher and will be sold on the private market at Rs 1,000 or $13.68 per dose.

Once the deal is finalised with the government, the vaccines would be delivered to the states.

Serum Institute has been contracted to make 1 billion doses of the coronavirus vaccine for developing nations. However, with this suspension on export, other nations would have to wait a few months before receiving their first shots. The export of vaccines for COVAX, a WHO-led initiative created to ensure equitable access to coronavirus vaccines, won't begin till March or April, said Poonawalla.

The Serum CEO said that the company is in the process of signing a larger contract with COVAX for 300 million – 400 million doses, apart from the order of 100 doses each for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine as well as the Novavax vaccine.

By December 2021, Serum would give 200 million to 300 million doses of the vaccine to COVAX. "We can't vaccinate everybody right now. We can prioritise," he explained.

The Government has decided that in the initial phase, COVID 19 vaccine will be provided to the priority group- Healthcare staff and frontline workers. The 50 plus age group may also begin early based on vaccine availability. The eligible beneficiaries will be informed through their registered mobile number regarding the Health Facility where the vaccination will be provided and the scheduled time for the same. This will be done to avoid any inconvenience in registration and vaccination of beneficiaries.