The approval for the first vaccine for children comes as a big boost to India’s vaccination drive. The significance of the three-dose ZyCov-D, the first needle-free, plasma DNA-based vaccine, is that it has been developed indigenously by Zydus Cadila in partnership with the Department of Biotechnology. It adds to the vaccine basket and constitutes a breakthrough for the home-grown drug maker. This second indigenous vaccine after Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin can be administered for children in the 12–18-year age group and it has shown a primary efficacy of over 66% in the Phase-III clinical trials. There is also hope of a two-dose regimen in near future. To be given at intervals of 28 and 56 days using the painless PharmaJet needle-free applicator, it will bring adolescents within the ambit of vaccination. The opening of schools thus could become a reality soon. At a time when India needs to ramp up its vaccination programme to achieve herd immunity quickly, the emergency approval for a new indigenous vaccine will be of a major help. Though the inoculation drive is picking up momentum in the country, it still falls short of the original target of covering the entire eligible adult population — nearly 95 crore — by the end of the year. Compared with countries like the United States and UK, the vaccination coverage in India is quite low. In the last two weeks, India administered an average over 55 lakh doses per day and at this rate 75% of the population would be covered by the end of the year.
It is because of the slow pace of vaccination that India’s GDP growth forecast has been lowered from 9.6% to 9.4% in 2021-22 by Fitch India Ratings. The rating agency had earlier estimated that India can expect 9.6% growth if all people above the age of 18 get vaccinated by December 31, 2021. In case India fails to achieve this target, the GDP may slip to 9.1%. India needs about 200 crore doses of Covid-19 vaccine, including the provision for wastage, to cover the entire population. There is an urgent need to expand the vaccine basket by roping in foreign mRNA vaccines for production in India. The Centre and the States are required to work in tandem on a mission mode to increase vaccination coverage. The data shows that though one-fourth of the world is now fully vaccinated against Covid-19, only 0.6% of people in the poorest nations figure among them, while 50% people are fully inoculated in the richest nations. The stark difference in numbers only highlights the lack of cohesive, determined effort at the global level to combat coronavirus, and how it could mar the march against the pandemic.