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As cases surge, Modi govt tells Serum, Bharat Biotech to boost Covid vaccine manufacturing

Health ministry has formed a 6-member inter-ministerial group to facilitate ‘capacity augmentation of domestic vaccines’ manufactured for Covid-19.

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New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government has asked drug makers Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech to find ways to boost manufacturing of their respective Covid vaccines, ThePrint learnt.

Officials said there is “enough vaccine available” in India for the identified beneficiary groups but this step was required as the country will need more vaccines to expand the vaccination coverage. According to health ministry figures Tuesday, India recorded 40,715 coronavirus cases in 24 hours, taking the nationwide infection tally to 1,16,86,796, with the active caseload at 3,45,377 registering an increase for the 13th day in a row.

The government’s latest move follows its decision to form an inter-ministerial panel to increase the production of Covid-19 vaccines in the country. According to a 17 March order issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, an inter-ministerial group has been constituted to facilitate “capacity augmentation of domestic vaccines manufactured for Covid19”.

“Both companies (SII and Bharat Biotech) have been asked to think about ways to boost the production of the vaccines and they are encouraged to think and innovate. They can also re-purpose some of the available facilities or production lines,” said Dr Samiran Panda, a top scientist at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), who is part of the panel.

“The objective behind the formation of the panel is to boost production with an estimate to inoculate at least 70% of the population in the defined beneficiary groups to achieve herd immunity,” he told ThePrint, adding that the move to increase production should not be confused with any shortage of vaccines in the country.

“The stock of vaccines is available for all identified groups and there is enough vaccine available for the same. However, as we move ahead, India needs to expand the vaccination coverage and hence, we will need more vaccines,” Panda said.

The Centre has been receiving requests from several vaccine manufacturing units across India that can be used as manufacturing sites. “We are considering the requests as proper quality control at these sites remains an issue. However, we are still working on these requests,” Panda said.

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Panel to boost vaccine production

According to the health ministry order, a copy of which was accessed by ThePrint, the panel “will engage in regular dialogues with indigenous vaccine manufacturers, including visit to their manufacturing sites, to facilitate rapid upscaling of domestic manufacturing capacities”.

The six-member panel includes Navdeep Rinwa, joint secretary in the Department of Pharmaceuticals; V.G Somani, Drug Controller General of India; Dr Samiran Panda from ICMR; Alka Sharma from the Department of Biotechnology; and Mandeep Bhandari from Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

“The group will be assisted by Dr. Eswara Reddy, joint drugs controller, Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO), a wing under the ministry of health,” the order said.

(Edited by Sanghamitra Mazumdar)

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  1. Modi Government had 6 months of time last year to prepare for and scale up production. Nothing was done by government. Even a small country UK ordered for 200m vaccines in May 2020. No vaccine order was placed by India in 2020. Even in January only a miniscule amount of 12m was ordered by government and serum production was stopped due to lack of orders. India is always Late, No proactiveness, No vision. Nothing. More focus was given to elections, rallies, madirs, stadiums, cricket etc. This is clear example of an incompetent goverance with misplaced priorities. Now cases are raising in India. Now modi is asking serum to scale up. It is too late buddy, you didn’t have foresightedness before. Now you are blocking the export to UK and other countries which need vaccines desperately. It will only backfire. India’s reputation in international stage is at stake now because of modi government’s sheer incompetency.

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