NEW DELHI: India on Sunday approved emergency use of two Covid-19 vaccines to kick off one of the world’s biggest inoculation drives, while the European Union offered to help drug companies expand production to ease distribution bottlenecks.
India, the second-worst affected country, has authorised use of shots developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University and by local pharmaceutical firm Bharat Biotech, the country’s drug regulator said.
The Serum Institute of India has said it is making between 50 and 60 million doses a month of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, which is cheaper than the Pfizer-BioNTech jab and easier to store and transport.
India has set an ambitious target of inoculating 300m of its 1.3 billion people by mid-2021.
Countries around the globe are hoping that the roll-out of vaccines will bring under control a pandemic which has infected 84.6m people and killed more than 1.8m since it first emerged in China just over a year ago.
But there is a worldwide shortage of vaccine production capacity, the EU’s top health official said on Saturday, offering help to drug firms amid concerns over the speed of vaccinations across Europe.
“The situation will improve step by step,” as vaccines roll out, health commissioner Stella Kyriakides told German news agency DPA.
The soaring number of infections means the race to vaccinate is likely to dominate the coming year.
In the United States, the vaccine roll-out has been beset by logistical issues, while the world’s worst-hit country has passed 20m cases and 350,000 deaths.
The US has seen a surge in infections in recent months and on Saturday saw its highest number yet recorded in one day, with more than 277,000.
Veteran talk show host Larry King became the country’s latest high-profile case as he was hospitalised in Los Angeles, US media reported.
In Russia, health minister Mikhail Murashko said more than 800,000 people had received the domestically produced Sputnik V vaccine and that 1.5m doses had been distributed throughout the country of around 147m.
The Kremlin has held back on imposing nationwide virus restrictions, instead placing its hopes on the mass vaccination drive to end the pandemic and save its struggling economy.
The French government has lengthened an overnight curfew by two hours in parts of the country to help combat the virus, with the shutdown now starting at 6pm, mainly in the east. Paris has, for now, been spared the additional restriction.
With vaccine production and mass inoculation programmes likely to take months, countries have tightened restrictions to fight a virus resurgence as experts predict a sharp rise in cases after weeks of holiday gatherings.
Published in Dawn, January 4th, 2021