Delhi has completed a full dry run as India prepares to deliver 50 million doses of the Oxford vaccine that it has manufactured and stockpiled.
Experts at the country's drugs regulator have recommended for emergency use two coronavirus vaccines, one developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University and the other backed by a state-run institute, the government said today.
SII, the world's biggest producer of vaccines, has already stockpiled about 50million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford shot, which will be sold to the government at about 250 rupees (£2.50) per dose and 1,000 rupees on the private market.
India's government plans to inoculate 300million people in total in the first phase of the vaccination programme, which will include healthcare and front-line workers, police and military troops and over-50s with underlying medical conditions.
The country's superior manufacturing capacity means it has been able to produce far more of the Oxford/Astrazeneca vaccine in advance.
Meanwhile in the UK, at least one million Pfizer doses and some 530,000 Oxford doses will likely be given to patients across the country next week, The Daily Telegraph reported.
India's massive exercise on Saturday included data entry into an online platform for monitoring vaccine delivery, along with testing of cold storage and transportation arrangements for the vaccine.
It came a day after a government-appointed panel of experts held a meeting to review the applications of potential vaccine candidates, including front-runner Covishield, developed by Oxford University and UK-based drugmaker AstraZeneca.
India has confirmed more than 10.3million coronavirus cases, second in the world to the United States. More than 149,000 people have died in India, third behind the US (347,000) and Brazil (195,000).
A minister said earlier the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine had been given the green light on Friday, paving the way for a huge immunisation campaign in the world's second most populous country.
The final decision on the two vaccines will be made by the Central Drugs Standards Control Organisation's (CDSCO) chief, who has called a news conference tomorrow.
The process for the final approval is expected to be a formality given the urgency for a vaccine in the country.
The other vaccine, known as COVAXIN, has been developed locally by Bharat Biotech and the government-run Indian Council of Medical Research.
The shot could be approved, though little is known about the results of its clinical trials, according to sources.
The government cited the experts' recommendation for COVAXIN, referring to the new strain of the virus first detected in Britain, stating: 'Grant of permission for restricted use in emergency situation in public interest as an abundant precaution, in clinical trial mode, specially in the context of infection by mutant strains.'
For the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, the approval was 'subject to multiple regulatory conditionalities', it said, without giving details.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar told reporters earlier that two other vaccines were waiting to be approved - Zydus Cadila's ZyCoV-D and Russia's Sputnik V - which are both on trial in India.
He said: 'India is perhaps the only country where four vaccines are getting ready.'
Referring to the fact that the AstraZeneca/Oxford shot is being made locally by the Serum Institute of India (SII), he added: 'One was approved yesterday for emergency use, Serum's COVISHIELD.'
The AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, which was granted its first approval by the UK on Tuesday, is cheaper and easier to use than some rival shots, such as the one from Pfizer Inc.
However, it has been plagued by uncertainty about its most effective dosage ever since data published in November showed a half dose followed by a full dose had a 90 per cent success rate while two full shots were 62 per cent effective.
India's regulator has also received an emergency-use application for the Covid-19 vaccine made by Pfizer with Germany's BioNTech - the first shot to secure regulatory approval in the West.
India's rate of infection has come down significantly from a mid-September peak.
The country hopes to inoculate 300million of its 1.35billion people in the first six to eight months of this year.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.