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Which COVID-19 Vaccines are Available in India Today?

May 17, 2021 1:08 PM 4 min read

As of May 17th, three COVID-19 vaccines have been approved in India. Covishield and Covaxin have been available since January while the first Sputnik V dose was administered in Hyderabad on Friday.

India’s Immunisation Drive - A Brief Overview

When India’s vaccination drive began four months ago, there was much aplomb and fanfare involved. It was frequently referred to as the world’s “fastest” and “largest” inoculation drive and was accompanied by several shipment exports as part of the country’s vaccine diplomacy.

Since March, however, the story has soured. The many policy missteps committed by the Government since the onset of the pandemic caught on to create an acute shortage of doses. Meanwhile, the brutal Second Wave of infections sent new infections and deaths soaring.

Today, even as the vaccination drive has opened to all Indians above 18, the previously stated goal of vaccinating up to 250 million citizens by July 31st seems elusive.

Meanwhile, the overt centralisation that was characteristic of the country’s approach to COVID vaccination for so long is now being replaced by a sudden realisation of the merits of federalism. As the Centre has passed the buck to the states, many have been forced to issue global tenders for doses amid the manufacturing slowdown at home (such tenders for vaccines by sub-national governments are a global first). 


Old Mistakes, New Ambitions

The Government has now said it sees the entire adult population of the country inoculated by the end of the current calendar year.

Considering the supply crunch, manufacturing limits, vaccine hesitancy, new variants, and possible new waves, this may seem like lofty and overoptimistic goal-setting. But officials have argued that the ongoing supply crunch will subside in the coming weeks as more vaccines enter the market.

FYI: Despite India’s new-found romance with decentralisation, the Centre still controls many vital components of vaccine policy.


Which COVID-19 Vaccines Will Be Available in India?

Here’s a lowdown of the vaccines expected to be available in India before the end of the year:

About 90% of the doses administered so far have been of Covishield. Manufactured by the Serum Institute, it is the Indian version of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

Covaxin is an indigenous vaccine that was given emergency authorisation by regulators in January. Bharat Biotech is also conducting trials of the vaccine on the 2-18 age group (whose inoculation would be vital to achieve herd immunity). The Hyderabad-based pharma company is also developing a "nasal" vaccine i.e. One that is administered through the nose. If approved, this could be a gamechanger since it wouldn't require the usual two-dose regime or the countless syringes and vials.

Zydus Cadila's vaccine is expected to be launched in June. Unlike most of its peers, its cold storage requirements are reportedly minimal - it is stable even at room temperature, something vital for a country like India (here’s why) - but it is expected to require three doses.

Also on the table are Covovax, which SII is manufacturing in partnership with US-based Novavax. Pune-based Gennova Biopharmaceuticals is expected to roll out an indegenous mRNA vaccine soon. Russia’s Sputnik V became available on Friday.

Biological E’s candidate is expected to be “one of the most affordable” options. The company has also signed on to manufacture 60 crore doses of Johnson & Johnson’s single-jab vaccine, which is awaiting regulatory approval to commence trials in India.

Speaking of J&J, the Government has invited foreign pharma firms to apply for emergency use authorisation in India, opening the door for the likes of Pfizer and Moderna. But with these firms up to their necks trying to meet demand from governments that had the foresight to place orders in early 2020 itself, expecting them to meet India’s requirements right now may be a long shot.

FYI: The “efficacy rate” of vaccines is a flawed and misleading metric. It gives the impression that some vaccines with high efficacy numbers - like Pfizer and Moderna - are more effective than others. However, the reality is far from this. All vaccines prevent extreme reactions to or deaths from COVID-19. The best vaccine is simply the one that’s available to you. Watch this video to understand what “efficacy rate” actually means..


How Much Do COVID Vaccines Cost in India?

When it comes to the financials of the vaccination drive, the Government has backtracked on its January promise of ensuring free jabs for every citizen. Today, it’s an every-state-for-itself kind of situation. While regional governments’ issue of global tenders may be a one-in-a-million shot, their purchase agreements with local manufacturers have also been lopsided.

SII and Bharat Biotech are charging states ₹400 ($5.46) and ₹600 ($8.19) per dose respectively, while private hospitals are being billed ₹600 and ₹1,200 ($16.37). On the other hand, the price for the Centre was ₹150 ($2) per dose for both vaccines. Sputnik V, which is being imported, will cost ₹995 ($13.58) per dose, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories has said, but this may reduce for made-in-India doses.

Moreover, doses for frontline workers and those 45+ were free, but for the 18+ segment prices currently vary across states and hospitals (that is, provided you manage to secure an appointment on CoWin). More than 20 states have announced free vaccines for citizens, at least at Government hospitals.

As of May 14th, the cumulative number of doses administered in the country has crossed 18 crore. Of these, 4 crore have been fully vaccinated (here’s an interactive dashboard of related data).

For context, India’s adult population is about 95 crore. That’s c. 200 crore doses (not counting wastage and exports) to be administered by December 31st, as per the Government’s target. That is either bullish optimism or building castles in the air. For the country’s sake, one can only hope that the vaccine strategy will be less broken going forward.


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