SII, Bharat Biotech ensure 'smooth roll out' of vaccines globally
The Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech have taken a joint pledge to ensure global access of the COVID-19 vaccines developed by them. SII's Covishield and Bharat Biotech's COVAXIN had been granted emergency use authorization (EUA) for restricted use in India earlier on Sunday. On Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that India will soon start its vaccination drive.
According to a statement, both SII CEO Adar Poonawalla and Bharat Biotech MD Krishna Ella communicated their intent to "develop, manufacture, and supply the COVID-19 vaccines for India and globally." "We are fully aware of the importance of vaccines for people and countries alike. We hereby communicate our joint pledge to provide global access for our COVID-19 vaccines," the statement added.
The statement mentioned that the two companies are now focusing on the manufacture, supply, and distribution of the vaccines in a way that prioritizes populations that need them most. "Both our companies are fully engaged in this activity and consider it our duty to the nation and the world at large to ensure a smooth rollout of vaccines," it said.
Covishield—developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University and manufactured by SII—is a recombinant chimpanzee adenovirus vector vaccine encoding the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. It has been found to have an overall efficacy of 70.42%. COVAXIN is an inactivated vaccine, i.e., it uses a killed version of the whole virus. Phase III trials are still underway, hence, Bharat Biotech is yet to submit efficacy data.
On Sunday, the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) Dr. VG Somani had announced that the two vaccines have been granted EUA. The emergency approval for COVAXIN has drawn criticism from independent experts due to the language used. The vaccine has been granted EUA "in public interest as an abundant precaution, in clinical trial mode, especially in the context of infection by mutant strains."
The language used for the EUA for COVAXIN has led many to believe that the vaccine has only been granted approval to be used as a "back-up," unlike SII's Covishield. The same was confirmed by members of the National COVID-19 Task Force—AIIMS Director Dr. Randeep Guleria and ICMR Director-General Dr. Balram Bhargava—who told The Indian Express that COVAXIN will be used as a back-up.
However, Ella has disputed the statement of the heads of AIIMS and ICMR regarding the vaccine being used as a back-up. He has also said that Bharat Biotech has "tremendous experience" in developing vaccines and their vaccine is "200% safe."