WHO says it ‘cannot cut corners’ in approving India’s Covaxin shot

Published October 19, 2021
A file photo of the logo of the World Health Organisation. — AFP/File
A file photo of the logo of the World Health Organisation. — AFP/File

BENGALURU: The World Health Organisation on Monday asked for further data from India’s Bharat Biotech to consider the company’s request for an emergency-use listing for its Covid-19 shot, saying the WHO could not “cut corners” in making a decision.

Bharat Biotech, which developed Covaxin with an Indian state research body, started sharing data with the WHO from early July. The vaccine was given emergency-use authorisation in India in January even before the completion of a late-stage trial, which later found the shot to be 78pc efficacious.

Without a WHO nod, the two-dose Covaxin is unlikely to be accepted as a valid vaccine around the world and would complicate travel plans for tens of millions of Indians who have taken it. Covaxin accounts for 11pc of the 985.5 million total doses administered in India, and has also been exported.

“We are aware that many people are waiting for WHO’s recommendation for Covaxin to be included in the #COVID19 Emergency Use Listing, but we cannot cut corners,” the WHO said on Twitter.

“Before recommending a product for emergency use, we must evaluate it thoroughly to make sure it is safe and effective.” The WHO was expecting “one additional piece of information from the company today”, it added, without specifying.

Bharat Biotech, which has struggled to meet production timelines for Covaxin, had no immediate comment.

WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan said on Sunday its technical advisory group would meet on Oct 26 to consider the listing for Covaxin. She said the WHO’s goal was to “have a broad portfolio of vaccines approved for emergency use & to expand access to populations everywhere”.

India is the world’s biggest producer of vaccines, with a capacity to make more than 3 billion Covid shots a year, mainly the AstraZeneca one.

Dose gap trumps output jump

India’s vaccination campaign has slowed despite amassing record stockpiles of vaccine, health ministry data showed on Monday, as authorities maintain a wider-than-usual gap between doses in a strategy that has boosted coverage.

Domestic production of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which accounts for nearly 90pc of administered doses, has more than tripled since May, when a supply shortage prompted India to double the period between doses to between 12 and 16 weeks.

That gap, exceeding the 8 to 12 weeks recommended by the World Health Organisation, has allowed India to give at least one vaccine dose to 74pc of its 944 million adults, with just 30pc getting the full complement of two.

The AstraZeneca vaccine, known as Covishield, accounts for 861 million doses of India’s total injected figure of 977.6 million, while its other main vaccine, Covaxin has a dose interval of four to six weeks.

Over the last few days, daily stocks of all Covid-19 vaccines have exceeded 100 million doses, the health ministry figures show, for states and federally controlled territories taken together.

In contrast, daily vaccinations have dropped to an average of 5 million doses this month and even less in the past week, off a daily peak of 25 million last month.

The ministry said it followed recommendations from a group of experts in making any changes to dosage, arrived at by weighing up “scientific and empirical” evidence.

Published in Dawn, October 19th, 2021

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