Vaccine, being a biological product, takes time for harvesting and quality testing and this cannot be done overnight to ensure a safe product, the Union Health Ministry said on Friday.
The ministry said Government of India, through the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 (NEGVAC), is regularly interacting with national and international manufacturers like Pfizer, Moderna to make vaccines available in the country.
"The concrete actions are a stern indication that Government of India is making all out efforts to increase vaccine production in the country as well as attracting foreign vaccine manufacturers to supply the required vaccine doses for national Covid vaccination programme," the ministry in a statement.
Despite the constraints of availability, India has fared well in covering 200 million persons in only 130 days which is the third largest coverage in the world, the ministry said.
Government of India has been supporting the efforts of states and UTs for effective management of Covid patients in vaccination under the 'Whole of Government' approach since January this year.
With Covid being a pandemic with worldwide impact, there has been a high global demand of vaccines with a limited number of manufacturers and limited manufacturing capacity across countries. India has a population of 1.4 billion, which is a substantial share of the world population, the statement said.
In India, two vaccines were approved by the regulatory body in January. The two manufacturers, Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech, had a capacity to provide around 1 crore doses in the month of December, 2020.
The NEGVAC was established in August, 2020 to provide guidance on all aspects of vaccine introduction, including prioritisation of beneficiaries, procurement, vaccine selection and its delivery.
The priority of beneficiaries for COVID-19 vaccination in India has been done based on the review of available scientific evidence, guidelines proposed by the WHO, global examples and practices followed in other countries with the primary objective of protecting the healthcare and frontline workers.
Accordingly, the vaccination drive in the country has been sequentially expanded to cover the prioritized groups starting with healthcare workers (HCWs) on January 16 followed by frontline workers (FLWs) from February 2, persons aged 60 years and above, and those aged 45-59 years with co-morbidities were covered from March 1.
Subsequently, from April 1 everyone aged 45 and above are eligible for vaccination.
Such an approach has yielded positive results by achieving more than 90 per cent first dose coverage among registered HCWs and around 84 per cent coverage of 1st dose among registered FLWs, the statement said.
A 'Liberalised Pricing and Accelerated National COVID-19 Vaccination Strategy' was adopted on May 1 which is guiding the ongoing phase of the vaccination drive.
This strategy aims at incentivising manufacturers to ramp up vaccine production and also attract new manufacturers. This will augment vaccine production resulting in wider availability of vaccines with flexibility in pricing, procurement, the statement said.
"The manufacturing capacities have been ramped up. Vaccine being a biological product takes time for harvesting and quality testing. This cannot be done overnight to ensure a safe product. Thus, increase in capacity of manufacturing too needs to be a guided process," the statement said.
The Russian Sputnik V is the third vaccine to get approval from the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) for restricted use in emergency situation and it is being used in a few private hospitals. These are expected to be increased over the coming days.
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