Govt hopeful of vaccinating adult population by December

India expects 2.16 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines between August and December, including the jabs that are currently in clinical trials, reports Sohini Das

While two billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines by the end of this year may be difficult, industry and analysts say a significant portion of the adult population can be covered with at least one dose by December.

The ambitious ramp-up plans, however, depend on the availability of raw material, the ability to scale up manufacturing drug substances, and forging partnerships to use the “fill-and-finish” capacities to their fullest. 

The world’s largest vaccine maker by volumes — Serum Institute of India — is making 70 million doses a month of Covishield and has started stockpiling Novavax vaccines too.

In the July quarter, SII will scale up this capacity to make 100 million doses a month of Covishield. Assuming 100 million doses a month from August, SII will be able to supply 500 million doses between August and December. 

SII aims to make 50 million doses of Covovax (the Novavax vaccine) per month at its Pune plant. Chief Executive Officer Adar Poonawalla has hinted at raw material shortage stalling achieving full capacity for Covovax. 

V K Paul, member (health) of NITI Aayog, said around 200 million doses of Covovax were estimated from SII between August and December. This translates roughly into 40 million doses a month. 

“Even if we make a conservative estimate that SII can make 25-30 million doses of Covovax a month, it can supply 125-150 million doses in India. It has commitments to Novavax and one has to see how it divides its production,” said an analyst who is tracking vaccine production.

He added SII alone should be able to supply around 1 billion doses of Covid vaccines to India between May and December. Add to this, the capacities of Bharat Biotech, Sputnik V makers, Zydus Cadila and Biological E Gennova’s mRNA vaccine is in phase 1 trials, and thus it will be long before this candidate hits the market. 

The government expects 550 million Covaxin doses from Bharat Biotech and 100 million doses of its nasal vaccine, which is still under trial. The company has to supply 50 million doses between May and July. It makes around 15 million doses a month and is enhancing capacities at Bengaluru plant and through partnerships with public sector undertakings.

The target was to reach 100 million doses per month of Covaxin production by September. Even if it touches half the capacity, it can provide 250 million doses between August and December.

Sputnik V, which was launched in India on Friday, is estimated to be available from Indian manufacturers in the July quarter. “Around 250 million doses of Sputnik V will be available for India this year. If there is demand, this number can go up as the Russian Direct Investment Fund has lined up 850 million doses of production in India,” the analyst added.

Aurobindo is readying a sterile injectables plant to make vaccines by June and would have a capacity of 200-220 million doses annually. The company has not announced any partnerships, but one can expect 80-100 million doses from this Hyderabad-based major in the second half of the year.

Zydus Cadila is expected to apply for licence for its DNA-plasmid vaccine soon. It would be able to supply 100-120 million doses this year, estimated industry insiders and analysts. Biological E’s candidate is in the third phase of clinical trials, and is likely to be ready by August. Paul expects 300 million doses from the firm.

Biological E’s technology is highly scalable — yeast-based platform.

 A vaccine maker said: “The targets are ambitious but achievable. The only hurdle is raw material availability and the capacity to make the bulk drug. Partnerships are fine, but fill and finish was never the hurdle. The challenge is to make the bulk drug substance of the vaccine.”

Vaccine industry expects government support to ramp infra: A senior executive at a vaccine-manufacturing firm pointed out while firms were trying their best to ramp up capacities, it would be great to have government funding. “We would look to have funding support from the government to augment our capacities, in fact, double it. We can set up a line in our existing facilities with government grants and supply the vaccine to India at no margin,” the executive said.

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