New Delhi: Five months after it received emergency use authorisation from the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI), the first lot of 1.5 lakh ZyCov-D vaccines has now started arriving in Bihar, top sources in the Union Ministry of Health & Family Welfare have told ThePrint. The vaccine will start being used in the national Covid vaccination programme in Bihar and six other states.
Hyderabad-based firm Biological E’s Corbevax is also expected to arrive this month and will be used in the national programme, but there is no plan to procure Serum Institute of India’s (SII) Covovax vaccine, which was developed by the US firm Novavax and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation.
“The Government of India has not made a commitment to buy every vaccine that is available or has received approval from DCGI. It is a US vaccine, why isn’t the US government procuring it? At this rate, you can also ask why we are not procuring Sputnik-V. Why isn’t the Russian government procuring it?” a senior health ministry official told ThePrint, speaking on condition of anonymity.
ZyCov-D supplies were originally expected a few weeks earlier but makers of the vaccine, Zydus Cadila, faced manufacturing delays because of problems of raw material availability, sources said.
“We had placed an order for one crore doses with the company but they faced some manufacturing delays over raw material availability. Since for a three-dose vaccine, that translates to just 33 lakh people, we also took a decision to use the vaccine in the national programme not in the entire country but in seven states to begin with. One of those states is Bihar and the first lot of 1.5 lakh ZyCov-D vaccines has now started arriving in the state. We will start using them soon,” said a central government source.
In a statement Wednesday, Zydus announced that the company has started the supplies of ZyCoV-D to the Government of India against their order from its newly commissioned state-of-the-art, Zydus Vaccine Technology Excellence Centre at the Zydus Biotech Park in Changodar, Ahmedabad.
The group is also planning to make the vaccine available in the private market. ZyCoV-D is a three dose vaccine administered intradermally using the painless PharmaJet needle free system, Tropis, on day 0, day 28 and day 56. The vaccine will be priced at Rs 265 per dose and the applicator being offered at Rs 93 per dose excluding GST.
Limited to adults for now
ZyCov-D, which is the world’s first DNA vaccine, is a three-dose vaccine that uses a special applicator instead of a needle. Each dose comprises two shots of the applicator. It was approved in September for use in people aged above 12 years.
However, for now, the use will be limited to adults. “We will see how it goes in adults and then take a call on using it in children. This, even though the NTAGI (National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation) has recommended it for use in children too,” the source said.
The seven states where it will be used initially are Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. The states have already been asked to identify districts with a high number of first doses left out for introduction of the vaccine.
According to the company statement, Zydus VTEC manufactures the drug substance for the needle-free DNA Plasmid vaccine, ZyCoV-D. The manufacturing process and in process material transfers within the plant are automated.
Zydus has also entered into a definitive agreement with Shilpa Medicare Ltd, a contract manufacturing organization to produce mutually agreeable doses of ZyCoV-D. The company also entered into an agreement with Enzychem Lifesciences of Republic of Korea for the manufacturing license and technology transfer for the Plasmid DNA Vaccine.
Corbevax expected this month too
Corbevax was the first vaccine for which the Government of India had made advance buying commitments way back in April 2021, when it paid an advance of Rs 1,500 crore for the manufacture of 30 crore Covid-19 vaccines. The protein subunit vaccine has been developed in association with Baylor College of Medicine, US, and is modelled after the Hepatitis E vaccine.
“The first 5 crore doses of Corbevax are expected to start coming in this month, may be by 15 February. We will use it in the national programme. As for Covovax, there is no plan at the moment to procure it,” the central government source said.
SII, makers of Covovax in India, has announced that it will export 25 crore doses of the vaccine.
(Edited by Saikat Niyogi)