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India to get 7 million doses of Moderna vaccine, but indemnity puts question mark on when

The central govt has so far procured only vaccines manufactured in India. But Moderna vaccine will be a part of the national vaccination programme.

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New Delhi: India will get seven million doses of the mRNA Covid vaccine manufactured by US pharmaceutical company Moderna through the international Covax arrangement, but there is no clarity yet on when the vaccines may arrive, primarily because the question of indemnity waiver is yet to be decided, top government officials have told ThePrint.

Though the norm so far has been that only vaccines manufactured in India are a part of the national Covid-19 vaccination programme, officials say an exception will be made for Moderna and it will be a part of the programme.

Moderna is among those companies which have been seeking an exemption from legal liability in case of any adverse effects after administration of its vaccines.

“We are looking at (getting) about 7 million doses of the vaccine through Covax. But I cannot say when they will come in because there are some things that need to be resolved, particularly the issue of indemnity. We have to look at all sides and also possible opposition from the civil society, should we make such a decision for a foreign company,” an official who is a member of the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 (NEGVAC) told ThePrint.

“In principle at least if this is extended to one company, all vaccine manufacturers, whether Indian or otherwise, should get the same treatment,” he added.

Covax is an international initiative that brings together governments, global health organisations, manufacturers, scientists, private sector, civil society and philanthropy, with the aim of providing innovative and equitable access to Covid-19 diagnostics, treatment and vaccines. It is co-led by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

While most vaccines introduce a whole (killed/inactivated) or fragmented pathogen into the body to teach the immune system to identify it when an actual infection occurs and mount an immune response, mRNA vaccines such as those manufactured by Moderna and Pfizer start the process from a step earlier. These vaccines introduce a fragment of a messenger RNA (ribonucleic acid) that codes for and teaches the body to make a protein that is characteristic of the pathogen — using the body’s own translation machinery — and then teaches the immune system to respond to it.

Also read: CoWin goes global, 76 countries want to use India’s Covid vaccination platform software

Moderna vaccines to be part of national programme

India’s Covid-19 vaccination policy so far has been that the government will only procure vaccines manufactured in the country. Since 21 June, the government has been procuring 75 per cent of all vaccines manufactured in India.

As yet, the government has not procured any foreign-manufactured vaccines. Even Sputnik V is currently available only in private hospitals. The Moderna vaccine will, however, be a part of the national programme because it is coming to the government as part of an international arrangement.

“It is difficult to give a date, to say anything like this week or this month, before the indemnity question is resolved. But it will be a part of the national programme. We have not yet taken a call on the distribution formula for states, because for that we also need to take into consideration the cold chain availability,” the official said.

The vaccine is going to be shipped at a temperature ranging between -50°C and -15°C as that is the ideal temperature for long term storage. However, the vaccine can be stored at a temperature of 2-8 degrees celsius — which is also the temperature maintained by cold chains across India — up to a period of 30 days.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

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