India clears Sputnik V, to allow more foreign vaccines to fight virus

Covid-19New Delhi (dpa) – India has granted emergency use approval for Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine and has fast-tracked the clearance of foreign-made vaccines as the country battles a deadly second wave of the pandemic.

Russia’s sovereign wealth fund RDIF said the drug controller general of India had approved the use of Sputnik V – which will become third coronavirus vaccine to be used in the country.

“India is the most populated country to register the Russian vaccine. Total population of 60 countries where Sputnik V is approved for use is 3 billion people or about 40 per cent of the global population,” a statement from RDIF said.

In another major step toward ramping up the vaccine rollout in the country, the government will fast-track the approval of foreign-produced vaccines already cleared in other countries, it said Tuesday.

Foreign vaccines will be exempted from conducting local bridging studies before seeking emergency-use authorization, provided they have received approval from any of the major regulators globally, the government said in a statement.

The first 100 beneficiaries of such foreign vaccines shall be assessed for seven days for safety outcomes before it is rolled out across the country, it said.

The step is aimed at expand the choice of vaccines and accelerate the pace and coverage of the rollout amid a raging second wave of Covid-19 infections.

India has administered 108 million doses to its population of 1.3 billion people since starting its vaccination programme in January.

Five vaccines are expected to get approval in India, including Johnson & Johnson and Novavax, media reports said.

The move come as several states have been complaining about dwindling vaccine stocks since last week. The list includes Maharashtra, Punjab and the national capital New Delhi, which are the worst-affected by the pandemic in the country.

Sputnik V, developed by Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute, will be manufactured by five pharmaceutical companies in the country and 850 million doses are going to be produced annually, RDIF said. A limited number of doses is going to be made available by the end of April, RDIF chief executive Kirill Dmitriev told broadcaster NDTV.

India has so far used two vaccines, one developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca and the other by a domestic firm, Bharat Biotech. Sputnik V has the highest efficacy – 91.6 per cent – among the vaccines cleared in India.

India overtook Brazil to become the nation with the second highest number of infections worldwide after the United States on Monday.

India reported 161,736 cases on Tuesday, taking the total caseload to 13.6 million cases, with the second wave surging over recent weeks fanned by crowded state election rallies, religious festivals and public complacency.

The number of deaths rose by 879 in the last 24 hours, pushing the total death count to 171,058, Health Ministry data showed.

Maharashtra, the worst-affected state with over 51,750 infections, has been struggling with a shortage of ventilator-supported ICU beds and oxygen cylinders. The Maharashtra government is likely to take a call on announcing a complete lockdown in the state this week.

New Delhi saw a fresh surge of 13,500 Covid-19 cases on Tuesday – its highest single-day spike so far.

The city government said 14 private hospitals had been turned into “full Covid-19” hospitals and ordered not to admit patients other than those infected with the virus.

By Siddhartha Kumar, dpa