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Does India have enough vaccine reserves to combat another Covid wave?

By Sohini Das
December 27, 2023 17:29 IST
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Vaccine makers in India have a limited stockpile of doses, even as COVID-19 threatens to rear its head this winter season, reports Sohini Das.

IMAGE: A beneficiary is being inoculated with a booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, amid a surge in the coronavirus cases across the world, at a centre, in Ranchi, December 26, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

Pune-based Gennova Biopharma­ceuticals has one million doses of its Gemcovac-OM (an Omicron-specific mRNA booster vaccine).


The health ministry’s CoWIN portal shows stocks of Serum Institute of India’s Covovax (its vaccine produced in partnership with Novavax) at some vaccination centres.

However, sources revealed that SII does not have any stockpile at a company level.

According to CoWIN data, only 73 vaccination centres are currently active in India, of which 32 are government-run.

Most of the centres are offering Covovax vaccine.

On Tuesday, 58 vaccinations were administered in India, of which only one was a precautionary dose taken by a senior citizen (aged above 60 years).

Twenty-eight vaccinations were administered to people in the 18-59 years age group.

An official of Gennova confirmed that the company has about one million doses of Gemcovac-OM, the first and only COVID-19 booster vaccine made available in India against the highly transmissible Omicron variant to have received the emergency use authorisation or EUA from the office of the Drugs Controller General of India.

The JN.1 sub-variant is a descendant of BA.2.86 (also known as Pirola), which itself is a sub-variant of the widely circulating Omicron.

“The booster vaccine helps in generating antibodies and memory immune responses specific to the Omicron variant, which can reduce the probability of infection and hospitalisation, and even prevent future waves of the pandemic,” the company said.

Unlike other mRNA vaccines, Gemcovac-OM, launched in June this year, remains stable at 2-8 degrees Celsius.

“The vaccine is available at 50 centres across major cities in India and can be obtained via the Co-WIN portal and vaccinator app. Gennova has also tied up with an agency that can vaccinate people at home,” the company said.

Meanwhile, SII is gearing up to apply for licensing a vaccine for the JN.1 variant, the company said.

It now has an XBB1 variant vaccine that is very similar to the JN.1 variant.

In the coming months, SII plans to obtain a licence for this vaccine in India.

Bharat Biotech does not have any stockpile of Covaxin, its whole-virion (an entire virus particle) inactivated COVID-19 vaccine.

Its production had stopped around April last year, and the stockpile was subsequently exhausted.

Stocks for the intranasal vaccine iNCOVACC have also run out.

An immediate response could not be elicited from Biological E on vaccine stock.

The Hyderabad-based company made Corbevax, which had got approval to be used as a mix-and-match booster after two doses of Covaxin or Covishield.

A vaccine industry source elaborated that the manufacturers were not gearing up to produce more doses because of two reasons.

One is low or almost no demand for vaccines from either the private or the public sector.

Secondly, all of these vaccines have an EUA status that does not allow the manufacturers to distribute them through pharmacies.

“One cannot release the vaccine onto the private market (through the pharmacy or other distribution channels) as they have an EUA status. Vaccines have to be ordered either by the government or private centres registered with Co-WIN. So, unless orders are placed no one can produce doses and create a stockpile,” said the source on grounds of anonymity.

India SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium chief NK Arora has said that no additional dose of vaccine is required against JN.1 at the moment.

According to him, precaution is required for those aged above 60 years, having co-morbidities or on drugs that suppress immunity (like cancer patients).

“In case these people have not yet taken their third dose, they are advised to take precaution,” he said recently.

Going by the current scenario, demand is unlikely to rise anytime soon.

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Sohini Das in Mumbai
Source: source
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