India is using two different COVID-19 vaccines. Uncertainty surrounds one of them
As India launches an ambitious effort to vaccinate 300 million people against the coronavirus within six months, it is employing two vaccines — both manufactured domestically but approved under very different circumstances.
One is CoviShield, the vaccine developed by Britain’s AstraZeneca and Oxford University, which clinical trials show is about 70% effective in preventing COVID-19 and is being manufactured in India by the Serum Institute, the country’s largest drugmaker.
The other is Covaxin, developed by an Indian company in conjunction with the government but whose performance in late-stage clinical trials has yet to be published. Health authorities nevertheless approved the vaccine for “restricted emergency use.”
Government health officials promise that both drugs are effective and say that Indians who line up for the first phase of shots will not be able to choose which drug they receive.
“Many countries across the world are using more than one vaccine,” Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan told reporters Wednesday. “There is no such option [of choice] available to any of the beneficiaries in these countries.”
Beginning Saturday, vaccines will be administered to 30 million medical professionals and frontline workers, followed by another 270 million people age 50 and older or those at risk because of other illnesses. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pledge to complete the first phase by August would put India, which has the world’s heaviest coronavirus caseload after the United States, on track to defeat COVID-19, experts say.
But the populist Modi is known for bold pronouncements that don’t always materialize. Experts warn that the lack of transparency surrounding Covaxin threatens to undermine public trust in the inoculation drive.
“Whatever has happened, it has created a perception that the vaccines are not the same,” said Prashant Yadav, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development in Washington who studies India’s healthcare supply chain. “That has the potential of creating delays and more friction in a process which we ideally want to be as smooth as possible.”