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Indian government won't import vaccines, leaving it to states: Report

Sources said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government would instead aim to support domestic vaccine makers by guaranteeing purchases from them. The government this month paid Indian vaccine makers in advance, for the first time, for supply of doses.

April 26, 2021 / 02:41 PM IST
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India’s government will not import COVID-19 vaccines itself but expects states and companies to do so, two government officials told Reuters, a decision that may slow acquisitions of shots just as a second wave of the pandemic rips through the country.
They said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government would instead aim to support domestic vaccine makers by guaranteeing purchases from them. The government this month paid Indian vaccine makers in advance, for the first time, for supply of doses.

Also Read: In charts | COVID-19 cases in India, state-wise trends, vaccination data, and other key details

After cases began soaring this month, Modi’s government urged Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to seek permission to sell their shots in India, and he relaxed rules for them.

Also Read: In-Depth | How India buckled under the deadly COVID-19 second wave

But the sources said New Delhi was now leaving it up to India’s states and companies to sign deals with foreign drugmakers while it buys in bulk most of the output of domestic producers - the Serum Institute of India, which is manufacturing the Anglo-British AstraZeneca vaccine, and Bharat Biotech, the maker of a home-grown shot.

COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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India’s new coronavirus caseload hit a record daily peak for a fifth day on Monday as countries including Britain, Germany and the United States pledged to send urgent medical aid to help tackle the crisis overwhelming its hospitals.’

The worst-hit state, Maharashtra, has said it will float a global tender to import vaccines. It is the richest state in India but many poorer ones may fall behind without financial support from the federal government to buy doses from abroad.

“The situation is desperate,” one of the government officials, told Reuters. “India will allow import of vaccines” by local partners of the drug companies but the federal government “won’t buy”.

The second government official said: “I don’t think the government will be buying foreign vaccines.”

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Both officials have direct knowledge of the matter but declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.

The ministries of external affairs, health and commerce did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Pfizer has said it is talking to Modi’s government about vaccines. J&J has sought approval to conduct a small local trial but made no plans to market its vaccine in India. Moderna has not commented.

Under fire for his uneven handling of the world’s worst COVID-19 surge, Modi has opened vaccinations for all adults from next month but supplies are already running short.

India has administered nearly 140 million doses to its frontline workers and those aged above 45 years. About 118 million people have received at least one dose of the vaccine, which is only about a tenth of the 1.35 billion population.

Follow our full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here.

first published: Apr 26, 2021 02:32 pm