India expects to begin vaccinating people against Covid-19 in January, federal health officials told the BBC.
The officials – who requested anonymity – said a few vaccine candidates were likely to get emergency-use authorisation from the drug regulator in the “next few weeks”.
Two companies have already applied for consideration, and six more are in various stages of clinical trials.
The vaccination programme aims to reach 300 million people by early August.
India has recorded nearly 10 million Covid-19 cases, and more than 144,000 deaths from the disease so far. The vaccination roll-out plans are being made even as the contagion shows marked signs of a slowdown.
What vaccines are under consideration?
The Covishield vaccine made by Serum Institute of India, which has partnered with British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca; and Covaxin, being developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) have already applied for authorisation.
The other candidates which are in different stages of trials to test safety and efficacy include:
ZyCov-Di, being developed by Ahmedabad-based Zydus-Cadila
Vaccine being developed by Hyderabad-based Biological E, the first Indian private vaccine making company, in collaboration with MIT
HGCO19, India’s first mRNA vaccine made by Pune-based Genova in collaboration with Seattle-based HDT Biotech Corporation, using bits of genetic code to cause an immune response
A nasal vaccine by Bharat BioTech
The Sputnik V vaccine candidate developed by Dr Reddy’s Lab and Gamaleya National Centre in Russia
A second vaccine being developed by Serum Institute of India and American vaccine development company Novavax
Four of these eight vaccines were being developed indigenously, the officials said.
The officials also disputed media reports that India had pre-booked millions of doses from a number of vaccine makers around the world, saying they were already satisfied with the stocks in the country.
They said the government was in “touch with a number of local and international vaccine makers, informing them about our requirements and finding out about their production capacities”.
Two Indian vaccine makers – Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine maker, and Bharat Biotech – alone have the capacity of making 65 million doses a month, they added.
How will the vaccination programme be rolled out?
Around 300 million Indians will be vaccinated between January and early August, officials said.
It will begin with an estimated 10 million health workers, followed by policemen, soldiers, municipal and other front line workers.
The next groups eligible for vaccinations would include people above and below 50 years of age with underlying conditions and co-morbidities, officials said.
India already runs the world’s biggest immunisation programme, inoculating more than 40 million newborns and pregnant women against 12 diseases every year. It also has a well-oiled electronic system to stock and track these vaccines.
How does India plan to vaccinate 1 billion people?
Officials said 154,000 of the country’s 223,000 nurses and midwives engaged in this programme will be deployed to give Covid vaccines to people. It will be also inviting final year nursing students to volunteer.
Some 29,000 existing cold storage facilities would be used to stock the vaccines – nearly all vaccines need to be transported and distributed between 2C and 8C in what comprises the so-called cold chain.
Officials said extreme cold storage chain facilities – up to -80C – are already available in a number of agricultural and animal husbandry research centres in Haryana, Karnataka and West Bengal, among other places.
There have been concerns about how India would monitor “adverse events” following immunisation after a controversy involving a vaccine volunteer who sued Serum Institute of India after reportedly falling sick following a trial jab.
“We will have to be transparent and address such adverse events. A standard operating procedure has been drawn up for that,” an official said.