'Risk of Stockpiling Has Paid Off': SII's Adar Poonwalla Wishes India Happy New Year on Vaccine Approval

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The Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) on Sunday gave emergency-use approval to COVISHIELD, India’s home-grown coronavirus vaccine, and the other by AstraZeneca and Oxford University. Soon after the announcement on vaccines, the CEO of Serum Institute of India, Adar Poonawalla, wished a "Happy new year" to the people of the country.

COVISHIELD is set to become India's first vaccine against the pandemic.

Poonawalla made the big announcement on Twitter on Sunday morning, saying, “Happy new year, everyone! All the risks @SerumInstIndia took with stockpiling the vaccine, have finally paid off. COVISHIELD, India's first COVID-19 vaccine is approved, safe, effective and ready to roll-out in the coming weeks (SIC),” he wrote on Twitter.

The DCGI addressed a press conference at 11 am on Sunday regarding the Covid-19 vaccine in India. "The... vaccines of Serum Institute (AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine) and Bharat Biotech are being approved for restricted use in emergency situations," the DCGI, V.G. Somani, said at a briefing.

The approval is expected to kick off one of the world's biggest vaccination drives in coming days in the country of 1.3 billion people.

India is the world's second most-infected nation with more than 10.3 million cases and almost 150,000 deaths.

In the first phase, the massive vaccination drive will cover almost as many people as the entire US population. The central government has identified 300 million people to receive the first doses of the vaccine. The priority group is made up of 30 million health care workers, policemen, soldiers and volunteers, and 270 million vulnerable people -- mostly citizens above the age of 50 and 10 million others with serious comorbidities.

When it comes to the actual vaccination process, India already has a vast, established network under its Universal Immunization Program, which inoculates about 55 million people per year. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also suggested that the country can draw from its experience of organizing the world's largest democratic elections, adopting a whole of society approach that involves the participation of states, districts, civil society, citizens and experts.

Meanwhile, India has successfully cultured the new coronavirus strain, which originated in the UK, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said on Saturday. In a tweet, the ICMR claimed that no country has yet reported successful isolation and culture of the UK-variant of SARS-CoV-2.

The research body said vero cell lines were used by the scientists of ICMR-NIV to culture the UK-variant of the virus. The UK had recently announced that the newly identified strain of the virus found in their population was up to 70 per cent more infectious. A total of 29 people have tested positive for the new UK variant of SARS-CoV-2 in India so far, the Union Health Ministry said on Friday.