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India gives emergency-use nod for AstraZeneca, local Covid vaccine

NEW DELHI: India's drugs regulator yesterday gave final approval for the emergency use of two coronavirus vaccines, one developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University and the other by Indian company Bharat Biotech and a state-run institute.

The decisions mark the first vaccine approvals for the world's second-most populous country, which after the United States has recorded the most coronavirus infections.

It is now expected to start a massive immunisation programme within about a week, a government official said, and hopes to inoculate 300 million of its 1.35 billion people free of charge in the first six to eight months of this year.

The AstraZeneca/Oxford shot, already approved in Britain, Argentina and El Salvador, will take the lead and Bharat Biotech's Covaxin will be administered under stricter conditions given no efficacy data has been released for it.

"It's now time to reap the benefits of the robust supply chain infrastructure we've put in place for quick and equitable distribution of the vaccine," said Health Minister Harsh Vardhan. India is the world's biggest vaccine producer and exporter.

Drugs Controller General of India V. G. Somani said the efficacy of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine was 70.42 per cent, while Bharat Biotech's Covaxin was "safe and provides a robust immune response".

The British-developed AstraZeneca/Oxford shot is being made locally by the Serum Institute of India and will be branded Covishield, while Bharat Biotech has teamed up with the government-run Indian Council of Medical Research.

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A lawmaker from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's nationalist party had earlier complained about the apparent preference for the foreign-made vaccine instead of the local one, whose approval has also raised questions about a lack of transparency in the process.

"Vaccines of Serum and Bharat Biotech are being approved for restricted use in emergency situations," Dr Somani said at a news conference. - REUTERS

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