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Indian looking at several types of Covid-19 vaccines

No decision on emergency authorisation yet, says Harsh Vardhan
Harsh Vardhan

Our Bureau And Agencies   |     |   Published 11.10.20, 05:26 PM

Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Sunday that the government had not yet taken a view on granting emergency authorisation to COVID-19 vaccines in India, as and when they became available.

The minister also said that the indigenously developed Feluda paper strip test for SARS-CoV-2 diagnosis could be rolled out in the next few weeks.

“Presently COVID-19 vaccines are in various stages of phases 1, 2 and 3 of human clinical trials, the results of which are awaited,” Vardhan said during an interaction with his social media followers on the fifth episode of his Sunday Samvaad platform.

"Adequate safety and efficacy data is required for emergency use authorisation, vaccine approval for ensuring patient safety. Further course of action will depend on the data generated," he underlined. The minister had earlier said that a COVID-19 vaccine was likely to be available by the first quarter of 2021.

 Categorically rejecting speculation that the government was prioritizing young and working-class for the COVID-19 vaccine for economic reasons, Vardhan said, “The prioritisation of groups for COVID-19 vaccine shall be based on two key considerations -- occupational hazard and risk of exposure to infection, and the risk of developing severe disease and increased mortality.”

Asked how the government planned to roll out the COVID-19 vaccine, he said that it was anticipated that supplies of vaccines would be available in limited quantities in the beginning.

“In a huge country like India, it is critical to prioritise vaccine delivery based on various factors such as the risk of exposure, comorbidity among various population groups, the mortality rate among COVID-19 cases, and several others," the minister said.

He also added that India was looking at the availability of several different types of vaccines, of which some may be suitable for a particular age group while others may not be so. He reiterated that the most important component of the planning was the cold chain and other logistics to ensure no glitches occurred in vaccine delivery even at the last mile.

On the need to include other candidates of COVID-19 vaccine, Vardhan said considering the large population size of India, one vaccine or vaccine manufacturer will not be able to fulfil the requirements of vaccinating the whole country. "Therefore, we are open to assessing the feasibility of introducing several COVID-19 vaccines in the country as per their availability for the Indian population,” he said.

Sharing his views on public-private partnership during the pandemic, Vardhan said that the present situation demands multiple vaccine partners to ensure maximum vaccination coverage to the Indian population.

He also said that the use of a single vaccine from a certain company should not be seen through a negative lens.

Vardhan also highlighted the need for massive advocacy for building community sensitization activities to understand the reasons for vaccine hesitancy and address them appropriately.

Feluda test shows 96 per cent sensitivity

On the rollout of the Feluda test, he said that based on tests in over 2,000 patients during the trials at the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB) and testing in private labs, the test showed 96 pc sensitivity and 98 pc specificity.

“This compares favourably to ICMR's current acceptance criteria of RT-PCR Kit of at least 95 pc sensitivity and at least 99 pc specificity,” he stated. He added that the Feluda paper strip test for SARS-CoV-2 diagnosis had been developed by CSIR-IGIB and had been approved by the Drug Controller General of India for a commercial launch.

"The kit has already been validated by the Department of Atomic Energy's National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore. While I cannot put an exact date on the availability, we should expect this test within the next few weeks," he said.

Reinfection misclassification

Referring to reports of reinfection surfacing in various states, Vardhan said an analysis by the ICMR has revealed that many cases reported as COVID-19 reinfection have been misclassified because RT-PCR tests can detect dead-virus shed for prolonged periods after recovery.

Actual reinfection would mean a fully recovered person getting infected by a freshly introduced virus in his/her body, belonging to the same or different strain. ICMR is commissioning a study to understand the true burden of re-infected cases. Results will be shared in a couple of weeks," he said.

Currently, two indigenously-developed vaccine candidates, one by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with ICMR and the other by Zydus Cadila Ltd, are in phase 2 of the human clinical trials.

Pune-based Serum Institute of India, which has partnered with AstraZeneca for manufacturing the Oxford COVID-19 vaccine candidate also, is conducting phase 2 and 3 human clinical trials of the candidate in India.

Rs 3,000 cr released to states and UTs

During the Sunday Samvaad conversation, Vardhan shared that in the first phase the Government of India has released Rs 3,000 crore to states and UTs to battle COVID-19 pandemic.

Almost all, except three states and UTs, have utilized the complete grant given to them: Maharashtra has only used 42.5 pc of the grant followed by Chandigarh at 47.8 pc and Delhi at 75.4 pc, he stated.

In view of the upcoming festivals, Vardhan urged the people to stay away from congregations and diligently follow COVID appropriate behaviour, saying "no religion or God says that you have to celebrate a festival in an ostentatious way".


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