A medic holds bottles of Covaxin vaccine Covid-19 during a nationwide vaccination campaign, in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, on Saturday, February 6, 2021.
Vishal Bhatnagar | NurPhoto | Getty Images
India could become the world’s second-largest producer of Covid vaccines, and analysts say the country has the capacity to produce both for its own population and for other developing countries.
Most of the world’s vaccines in the past come from India. Even before Covid-19, the country of South Asia produced up to about 60% of the world’s vaccines – and it can do so at a relatively low cost.
“India was a hub for vaccine production … even before the pandemic, and should therefore be a strategic partner in the global inoculation against COVID-19,” JPMorgan analysts wrote in a report last month.
Deloitte consulting firm predicts that India will be second only to the US in coronavirus vaccine production this year. PS Easwaran, a partner from Deloitte India, said more than 3.5 billion Covid vaccines could be made in the country in 2021, compared to about 4 billion in the US
Moreover, companies in India are currently increasing production to meet demand.
“We are expanding our annual capacity to deliver 700 million doses of our intramuscular COVAXIN,” said Indian firm Bharat Biotech, which developed the Covid vaccine together with the Indian State Council for Medical Research.
Covaxin is approved for emergency use in India, but he got stuck in controversy over criticism that there was a lack of transparency in his approval, and also because he did not publish enough data on the effectiveness.
Another vaccine – known as Covishield in India, was developed together AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford – also received emergency approval in India. It is produced locally by the Indian Serum Institute (SII).
According to Reuters, SII produces about 50 million doses of Covishield each month, and plans increase production to 100 million doses per month by March.
Other Indian companies have agreed to produce vaccines for developers such as the Russian Direct Investment Fund and US companies. Johnson & Johnson. To be clear, these vaccine candidates have not yet been approved for use.
“Even without the successful development of vaccines from our own pipelines, the available capacity provides an opportunity to partner as approved manufacturers with approved vaccine manufacturers to meet supply needs, especially for India and other [emerging markets], “the JPMorgan report states.
Indian vaccines are likely to be more appropriate for developing countries, said K Srinath Reddy, president of the Indian Public Health Foundation.
Some of the leading vaccines currently, such as those from Pfizer–BioNTech i Modern, take advantage of messenger RNA (mRNA) technology that uses genetic material to start your own process of fighting infection in the body.
That vaccine requires “strict cold chain requirements” that will be difficult or even “out of range” for most health systems, Reddy said.
Vaccines produced in India are easier to transport and cheaper, putting the country in a better position than the US and Europe when it comes to meeting demand in developing countries, he added.
India’s huge production capacity also gives analysts the confidence that the country can give vaccines to other countries.
New Delhi has pledged to send vaccines to neighboring countries and has already delivered 15.6 million doses to 17 countries, according to Reuters.
“India’s manufacturing capabilities are sufficient to meet domestic demand,” said Nissy Solomon, a senior research associate at the Center for Public Policy Research (CPPR).
“With proven results to date on the scale in which vaccines are produced, India should be able to increase production to meet international demand,” she told CNBC.
Solomon added that the country monitors domestic needs before making export decisions.
Bharat Biotech, for its part, said it was “fully prepared to respond to the needs of India and global public health”.
However, there will be challenges as the country wants to meet the demand for vaccines in India and beyond.
Jefferies capital analyst Abhishek Sharma wrote in a note that the introduction of the vaccine in India is slow. Even assuming the rate of vaccination will increase, Sharma estimates that only 22% of India’s 1.38 billion people can be vaccinated in a year.
“The supply of vaccines is not so much a problem as the storage, distribution and delivery of vaccines,” CPPR’s Solomon said.
“India lacks the capacity to store and distribute to the masses on a scale like this,” she said, adding that the country should “strategically” select vaccines that do not have to be stored at extreme temperatures.
The vaccines that India currently produces require normal cooling, but those that do Pfizer–BioNTech should be kept at extremely cold temperatures of minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit), while those of Modern they must be stored at minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit).
The “real challenge” is in the large number of people who need to be vaccinated, said Reddy of the Indian Public Health Foundation.
“This is the first time that an adult immunization program has been implemented on such an unprecedented scale,” he told CNBC.
He said immunization programs usually focus on vaccinating children and mothers, and the logistics network may not be ready to handle vaccines for the entire population.
Reddy suggested that the existing cold food chain could be used for vaccines and hoped this problem could be solved.
“I would say that [these challenges are] more like a speed switch that will slow down … the program, than the actual roadblocks that have to stop the program, ”he said.