With emergency use authorisation for J&J’s single-dose vaccine, the next step is to speed up its domestic production. As with reserving 30 crore doses of the under-trial Corbevax with Biological E, which is also reportedly J&J’s India partner, GoI must consider a similar advance for the J&J shot to expedite local manufacturing scale-up. A one-dose jab will be more helpful in meeting the increasingly-tough December 31 target of fully inoculating all adults, neatly halving the effort now centred around two-shot vaccines. The asking rate for daily vaccinations to meet the December target is inching towards the one-crore mark.
That’s why it’s critical there are no delays when other vaccines, in final stages of seeking emergency use authorisation, come up for official greenlighting. These include Zydus Cadila’s three-dose shot, Covovax licensed by SII from Novavax, and Corbevax. News reports indicate October appears to be the most realistic timeframe when these vaccines could come online. However, neither Covovax or Corbevax are part of the vaccination programmes of the US, UK or EU. So greater due diligence is needed, unlike J&J or Moderna that were excluded from local bridging trials on the strength of their global deployment.
Despite EUA, India’s attempts to import foreign vaccines have yielded underwhelming results. An exclusive licence for the first 250 million Sputnik V doses notwithstanding, DRL had struggled to complete an import order for 3 million second doses. Given a strict 21-day gap between two doses, DRL has wisely decided to await the full delivery of second doses, before commencing a mass drive for the first shot.
GoI’s bulk order of 66 crore doses of Covishield and Covaxin in mid-July appears to have factored in such contingencies. The fire at SII’s Pune campus and homegrown Covaxin’s continuing production struggles serve warning that much can still go wrong. Over 28 crore partially vaccinated individuals need second shots too, which could drag down further progress on first dosing a wider population, unless production rises significantly. A silver lining is that daily vaccinations averaged 50 lakh last week, from 40 lakh the previous fortnight. With full vaccination becoming a passport for accessing public places, the unvaccinated are, in effect, being discriminated against. Bulk pre-orders of newer vaccines are needed immediately.