An Indian government-backed Covid-19 vaccine could be launched as early as February next year as last-stage trials begin this month, a senior government scientist said. Studies have shown the vaccine to be safe and effective so far.
Private company Bharat Biotech, which is developing Covaxin with government-run Indian Council of Medical Research, had earlier hoped to launch the vaccine only in the second quarter of 2021.
Senior ICMR scientist Rajni Kant said: “The vaccine has shown good efficacy. It is expected that by the beginning of next year, February or March, something would be available.”
Kant, who heads ICMR’s research management, policy, planning and coordination cell, added the health ministry will decide whether vaccine shots can be administered even before the third-stage trials ends.
The development comes at a time at least 575 students and 829 teachers have tested positive in Andhra Pradesh after the state government reopened schools for classes 9, 10 and intermediate from November 2.
The figures are expected to rise as a total of 70,790 teachers and 95,763 students have undergone RT-PCR tests and most Covid-19 results are awaited.
On the vaccine front, a February launch would make Covaxin the first India-made vaccine to be rolled out.
India has so far recorded 8.41 million cases, second only to the US, with 1,25,000 deaths. However, the daily rise in infections and death has shown a decline since a peak in mid-September.
Health minister Harsh Vardhan had earlier said the government was considering granting an emergency authorisation for a Covid-19 vaccine, particularly for the elderly and people in high-risk workplaces.
Several leading vaccine candidates worldwide are in final-stage testing. Britain’s AstraZeneca’s experimental vaccine is in the most advanced stage and is expected to be rolled out late in December 2020 or early 2021.
AstraZeneca has signed several supply and manufacturing deals with companies and governments around the world, including with the Serum Institute of India.