Union Health and Family Welfare Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan said "test, track, treat" was the government's strategy to move forward, and listed the progress stage of various vaccine candidates, adding that some of them could be available in the first quarter of 2021.
In an interview to the Hindustan Times, Vardhan talked about the current Covid-19 situation in the country, and provided details on the government's vaccine procurement plans.
On Thursday, India's Covid-19 caseload went past 28 lakh with a record single-day spike of 69,652 infections, according to the Union Health Ministry data. Asked about when infections are projected to peak across India, following a fall in fresh cases, the Health Minister said that it was difficult to predict that.
India being a large country, he said the outbreak was heterogeneous in different states with respect to their vulnerability, the maturity of outbreak, and the number of confirmed cases.
He added that the outbreak was likely to peak at different points in cities and states, and the variety in implementation measures, including the proportion of people taking preventive measures, played a role in this. He said these factors made it difficult to say when a drop in new cases would take place.
Various experts across the duration of the outbreak, have said that a vaccine is direly needed for the world to go back to some normality in its operations. Asked about when a vaccine would be ready for use in India, Vardhan said that vaccine trials against Covid-19 were being fast-tracked globally.
He said the efficacy of India-made vaccines would be known by the year-end, upon completion of trials. Adding that the Oxford vaccine produced by Serum Institute of India was already being produced on a parallel end, he said this would reduce the time needed to market it.
The Health Minister said that the other two vaccines would require at least a month extra for production, and phased introduction in the market. He pointed out that if the vaccine trial results were successful, it could be "ready to use" by the first quarter of 2021.
Developed by Hyderabad-based pharmaceutical firm Bharat Biotech, the human trials of 'COVAXIN' had started two weeks back and could be available by the end of 2020, Vardhan said.
He told HT the Serum Institute of India had informed that it was ready to begin human trials in India this month and was hoping to have the AstraZeneca vaccine available by the year-end. The ZyCoV-D from Zydus Cadila could complete its clinical trials in a few months too, he added.
Last week, the European Union agreed to buy at least 300 million doses of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine in its first such advance purchase deal. As other countries move towards similar advance procurement deals, Harsh Vardhan was asked to comment on India's plans for the same.
He answered that the details of the procurement plan were being developed by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, adding that it was crucial to note that the country was home to the world's vaccine manufacturing industrial base, which provided two-thirds of childhood vaccines used globally.
He told HT the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) was collaborating with Bharat Biotech, and had entered into an MoU which stated that priority would be accorded to provide vaccines, if it was successful, to the Indian Government, at an affordable and subsidised rate.
The Minister added that a similar agreement was in the advanced stages of negotiation with the Serum Institute of India for three Covid-19 vaccine trials to be supported by ICMR.
"Serum institute and ICMR are to undertake the trials of Oxford vaccine and two others – one produced by Novamox-Serum and another by Serum Institute by itself. Once the results of Phase I and II will be available, the detailed contours of plan to roll out will be finalised," he told Hindustan Times.
Harsh Vardhan said that infections had come down in Mumbai and Delhi, despite high testing, adding that this was corroborated by the downtrend in hospital admissions. He said the government was ahead of its set targets for Covid-19 testing, and said that the country's case fatality ratio was controlled by effective containment, aggressive testing with contact tracing and standardized clinical management protocols based on a "holistic standard-of-care approach".