The regulatory approval for the Moderna vaccine is a welcome development as it adds to the basket of Covid-19 vaccines and helps in expanding the coverage. This is crucial because of the growing concerns over the spread of the Delta Plus variant and the need to speed up inoculation drive to meet the target of covering the entire adult population by the year-end. However, there is still no clarity on the issue of indemnity clause, whose removal the American pharma giant had asked for, nor are any details available regarding the number of doses to be imported from Moderna’s India partner, Cipla. Nevertheless, it was significant that the Drugs Controller General had waived the bridge trials required of foreign vaccine manufacturers. This was one of their major demands and opens the possibility of reinforcing the country’s vaccine basket. There is a need for greater transparency in the vaccination policy, a point highlighted by the Supreme Court. Without compromising on the safety norms, the Centre must speed up negotiations with the foreign companies towards the removal of other stumbling blocks in the introduction of the mRNA technology-based vaccines. Though an average of 60 lakh jabs were administered in the past 10 days, the pace is still not enough to meet the target set by the Centre. Moreover, most of the doses administered are the first shot of the two-dose regimen. India needs to administer a minimum of one crore doses a day to inoculate its 95-crore adult population by December.
Even five months after launching the vaccination drive, vaccine shortage remains an issue in many States. As a result, only 4% of India’s population is fully vaccinated. In its affidavit submitted before the apex court, outlining the vaccination timeline, the Centre noted that the drive would gather further momentum after August with the projected acquisition of 135 crore doses. Indigenous manufacturers, Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech, will continue to be the mainstay of the endeavour with the latter’s share estimated to go up three times. Both companies will need to ramp up production. If foreign vaccine makers like Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson and indigenous manufacturers like Biological E and Zydus Cadila can join in quickly, it would boost the country’s efforts to overcome the pandemic. With experts warning that the coronavirus is here to stay, and new mutations are bound to occur in future, the need to diversify the vaccine baskets and develop boosters to tame the new strains of the pathogen has acquired a sense of urgency. Already, India has lost precious time as it was caught in a flawed vaccination policy marked by lopsided distribution and differential pricing.
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