With the threat of COVID-19 resurfacing and India ramping up preventive health surveillance measures, Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya said on Friday that a vaccine, which could be administered as nasal drops, would henceforth be available for public use.
“We have made available a nasal vaccine, developed by Bharat Biotech, that can be used as a precaution (booster) dose. So, whether you have been administered Covaxin or Covishield or any other vaccine, the nasal shot can work,” he said at a public event.
A spokesperson for Bharat Biotech told The Hindu that appointments for the nasal vaccine would be now be available via the Cowin website, through which vaccine appointments are mediated.
iNCOVACC, co-developed by Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech and the U.S.-based Washington University, had been approved in November for ‘restricted emergency use’ conditions for those 18 years old or older. It is approved both as a primary dose and a heterologous booster.
The nasal vaccine was approved as a primary dose after Phase-3 trials, and was separately tested for safety and immunogenicity as a booster, according to a company statement.
Unlike Covaxin, which is an inactivated coronavirus injected along with an adjuvant, iNCOVACC is an adenovirus-vectored vaccine with a “prefusion stabilised spike protein”, which is more like the technology employed in the Covishield vaccines.
Booster dose rates low
So far, over 220 crore vaccines have been administered in those 12 years-and-above in India. Though 90% of the population has got two doses, only 27% have taken a third dose. Of those above 60 years, 60% are yet to get a third (precaution) dose, according to statistics from the Health Ministry.
Media reports suggest that, in China, about 50% of those over 60 years have received a third dose. The ongoing COVID wave in that country may claim as many as a million lives -- largely among the elderly -- in the coming weeks.
India’s weekly positivity rate is 0.14% with only 153 cases reported from December 16 to 22. Globally, however, there are 5.76 lakh cases being reported daily, including 154,000 in Japan, 67,000 in South Korea and 65,000 in the United States.
Mr. Mandaviya met with health ministers from the States and urged them to strengthen their surveillance systems for whole-genome sequencing to detect new, more infectious variants. He also asked them to increase vaccination of the eligible population, particularly the elderly. State representatives said that they were prepared and would hold a “mock drill” on December 27 to test hospital infrastructure.
Independent experts say that the scenario unfolding in China is still unlikely in India. According to Anurag Agrawal, Dean of BioSciences and Health Research at Ashoka University, China had low natural immunity due to its zero-COVID policy.
The country had administered fewer third doses, which were mostly killed-virus vaccines. It also had a high elderly population and fewer healthcare infrastructure per unit of population compared with rich nations. “Together, this constitutes perfect storm conditions for rapidly transmitting and immunity-breaking Omicron variants. Most people in India have had mild Omicron infections and thus India is not expected to see a situation like China,” he said in a statement.