As India's Vaccine Drive Expands, Here's What We Know About the Two Available Shots

Many news reports have suggested that recipients will be able to choose which vaccine they would like to receive – but this is not a full choice.

New Delhi: On March 1, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was inoculated with the first dose of the Covaxin vaccine candidate on March 1, formally kicking off the second phase of India’s ambitious immunisation campaign that began in mid-January.

In the second phase, people older than 60 years and people older than 45 years with one or some of 20 comorbidities identified by the Union health ministry are eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Remarkable how our doctors and scientists have worked in quick time to strengthen the global fight against COVID-19,” Modi said on Twitter, posting a picture of him getting the shot at a government hospital in New Delhi. “I appeal to all those who are eligible to take the vaccine. Together, let us make India COVID-19 free!”

Thus far, this is what we know of the two candidate vaccines:

In the first phase, launched on January 16, the health ministry set itself the goal of vaccinating 300 million frontline and healthcare workers by July 2021. Thus far, 12 million of them have received at least one dose.

In the second phase, the estimated number of inoculants ranges from 100 million to 270 million.

A person needs to first sign up to be inoculated via the Government of India’s COVID Vaccine Intelligence Network (Co-WIN) platform or the Aarogya Setu app. Inoculation facilities will reportedly be available at designated centres from 9 am to 3 pm.

They can then receive their doses from one of “over 10,000 private hospitals enrolled with the PMJAY (Ayushman Bharat) scheme, those associated with state-level schemes plus 600 Central Government Health Scheme hospitals to administer vaccines” (source).

The Union health ministry said that one million people had registered themselves to be vaccinated from 9 am to 1 pm on March 1.

Watch: ‘Delay Second Covishield Dose for 8-12 Weeks, Permit Open Market Sales for Unused Vaccines’

In the course of the COVID-19 pandemic thus far, India has reported the second-highest number of cases in the world after the US. The national case load has also witnessed a revival since mid-February: after five consecutive weeks of a steady decline, India reported a 10% jump.

Some have speculated if this is the rise of India’s second wave, but experts agree that a national wave seems less likely than multiple regional ones. The government has responded by pushing states to distribute and administer vaccine doses faster.

The government also said last week that it would let people choose their vaccination centres in the second phase.

The two candidate vaccines licensed to participate in the programme are Covaxin, developed by Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech, and Covishield, developed by researchers in the UK, licensed to AstraZeneca, which in turn licensed Serum Institute in Pune.

Many news reports have suggested that recipients will be able to choose which vaccine they would like to receive – but this is not a full choice. A recipient only has the option to opt out of receiving a vaccine once they have been allotted it, and can’t directly dictate their preferences.

The government has capped the price of each dose disbursed through private facilities at Rs 250. They will be available at no charge from government facilities.

The country’s inoculation campaign has progressed slower than expected due to reluctance among healthcare and frontline workers to take Covaxin, which the Drug Controller General of India approved without late-stage efficacy and long-term safety data.

Bharat Biotech has said efficacy data from a late-stage trial on nearly 26,000 volunteers who were administered Covaxin is expected to be available in a few weeks. The company, along with India‘s drug regulator, has said it believes Covaxin to be safe and effective based on early and intermediate studies.

Glitches and latency issues with the Co-WIN platform that the government is using have also delayed or disrupted vaccination plans in parts of the country.