NEW DELHI – India tested its COVID-19 vaccine delivery system with a nationwide trial on Saturday, as it prepares to roll out an inoculation program to stem the coronavirus pandemic.
The trial included data entry into an online platform for monitoring vaccine delivery, along with testing of cold storage and transportation arrangements for the vaccine, the health ministry said in a statement.
The massive exercise was followed by India’s drug regulator recommending the emergency-use approval of two vaccines for COVID-19 — one developed by Oxford University and U.K.-based drugmaker AstraZeneca, and another by the Indian manufacturer Bharat Biotech.
Both the vaccines will now have to wait for final approval from the Indian regulator.
Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturing company, has been contracted by AstraZeneca to make 1 billion doses for developing nations, including India. On Wednesday, Britain became the first to approve the shot.
The vaccine developed by Bharat Biotech is based on an inactivated form of the coronavirus. It is being made in collaboration with agencies of the Indian government. Early clinical studies showed that the vaccine doesn’t have any serious side effects and produces antibodies for COVID-19. The company said in November that it was starting late clinical trials.
The government plans to inoculate 300 million people in the first phase of the vaccination program, which will include healthcare and front-line workers, police and military troops, and those with comorbidities who are over the age of 50.
The government is expected to initially lean on the vaccine produced by Serum Institute of India, which doesn’t require the ultra-cold storage facilities that some others do. Instead, it can be stored in refrigerators. This makes it a feasible candidate, not just for India but also for other developing nations.
Indian Health Minister Harsh Vardhan reviewed the preparedness for the vaccination drive at a government hospital in New Delhi on Saturday and urged the public not to pay heed to anti-vaccine rumors. “We will not compromise on any protocol before approving a vaccine,” he told reporters.
Pooja Moriya, a health worker in the capital who will be one of the first to be inoculated, said hospital staff has had several meetings about the vaccine and how it works. “Our seniors have told us to not be scared at all,” Moriya said.
India has confirmed over 10.3 million coronavirus cases, second in the world behind the U.S. More than 149,000 people have died from the virus in India.