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India already makes over 60% of the world’s vaccines, now gears up to meet the global demand for billions of coronavirus vaccine doses

India is the world's largest vaccine manufacturer. As the world looks for billions of doses of affordable, easily stored vaccines, India is all set to deliver.

As several of the pharmaceutical companies have announced the development of a potent vaccine candidate for the coronavirus, the world has cast its eyes on India, the largest maker of the medicinal vaccines, to rise to the occasion and provide them with requisite doses of the vaccines. India, for its part, has pounced on the challenge, launching a massive vaccine production blitz, freeing up capacity and speeding up investments to capitalise on its vaccine production prowess, a report published by Reuters said.

With India manufacturing more than 60 per cent of the vaccines sold across the globe, even without its involvement in the manufacturing of the expensive Pfizer Inc and Moderna vaccines, India is all set to play a crucial role in vaccinating a major part of the world against a pandemic that has so far affected more than 68 million people and resulted into deaths of over 1.58 million.

The Indian pharmaceutical companies are gearing up to prepare eight, more economical vaccines, including the AstraZeneca’s Covishield, which is being called “vaccine for the world” because of the efforts to make it cheap and easily available for poorer nations.

Foreign envoys impressed by India’s preparations for coronavirus vaccine production

About 64 foreign envoys recently visited India’s COVID-19 facilities in Hyderabad, a trip organised by the Ministry of External Affairs(MEA), in a bid to showcase Indian companies’ prowess in building the vaccine to fight COVID-19. The envoys were briefed about Covid-19 vaccine programmes and how India has taken the lead in fighting the pandemic. India’s leadership in vaccine development was backed by the statesmanship of PM Modi, who announced that the vaccines would be available for all of humanity.

The Ministry of External Affairs said that it would conduct similar trips for foreign envoys in other cities as well to exhibit India’s competence in large-scale manufacturing of vaccines.

Denmark’s envoy to India, Ambassador Svane Freddy, told media that he was proud to be a part of India’s journey in taking the lead on the COVID front. “It has been a great visit to Genome Valley, first to Bharat Biotech and then to Biological E. It is fantastic how India is setting the new standard. India is becoming a global hub for vaccines. It is impressive. India is moving and taking a lead. I am proud to be part of that,” he said.

Another foreign diplomat, Australia’s ambassador to India, Barry O’Farrell, who also toured the vaccine manufacturing sites in India, had glowing words of praise for India’s vaccine manufacturing capabilities. “There are many vaccine manufacturers across the world but there’s only one nation that has the manufacturing capacity to produce enough quantities to fulfil the demands of citizens in every country, and that’s India,” Barry said.

Indian vaccine manufactures expand their vaccine production capacity in anticipation of global orders

India’s vaccine production capability is reinforced by vaccine makers such as Serum Institute of India(SII), who holds the distinction of being the world’s largest vaccine manufacture. SII, which is based in Pune, has already amassed 50 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot, even though the vaccine is yet to receive the go-ahead approval for emergency-use from both the British and Indian authorities. SII intends to stockpile around 400 million doses of Covishield by mid-2021 and is currently involved in establishing new production lines to support its goal of rolling out one billion shots a year.

SII CEO Adar Poonawalla has been quoted by Reuters as saying that the affordability and the volume capacity of India will make it an important player in the world’s fight against the coronavirus. “Because the volumes coming out of India and the affordability of the vaccines, there is no other country that will contribute more towards ending the pandemic than India,” Poonawalla said.

To this end, SII has signed deals with US biotech firm Codagenix, Novavax and Austria’s Themis and has lowered its production capacity for other diseases. The company has also been investing a lot in cold storage rooms, transport and logistics to meet the demand.

Another company, Bharat Biotech, has sought an emergency approval for its government-backed vaccine candidate, is in discussions with more than 10 countries in South America, Asia and Eastern Europe to sell its product. Besides being affordable, Bharat Biotech and AstraZeneca’s vaccines candidates do not require to be stored at extreme cold temperatures as is the case with the Pfizer’s vaccine. Many of the countries from South America, Asia and Africa lack the robust cold storage facilities required to store Pfizer’s vaccine. Bharat Biotech’s coronavirus vaccine, therefore, offers a very compelling alternative to these countries in their fight against the coronavirus.

Russia, which has also claimed of producing an effective coronavirus vaccine, has signed contracts with Indian manufactures to produce 100 million doses of Sputnik V vaccine every year.

It is notable here that the vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna need to be stored at below -70 degrees C. A requirement that makes them expensive to store and transport, as a result, raising the price of each shot exponentially. Most nations want an affordable vaccine to help their populations.

Ancillary companies step up their production capacity to match the spurt in vaccine manufacturing

The global interest in India for vaccine manufacturing has galvanised many manufactures to invest heavily in enhancing production capacities without having deals in their hands.

Rishad Dadachanji, a director at Schott Kaisha, which manufactures vials, said that his organisation has taken a “calculated risk” and is in discussions with 10 vaccines makers at home and abroad to manufacture their coronavirus candidates. It plans on increasing its manufacturing capacity by 300 million to 1.5 billion vials.

Similarly, their rival firm SGD Pharma India and Piramal Glass are also expanding their production base, in anticipation of large vaccine orders. SGD intends to boost up its capacity by 100 million units to its current capacity of 350 million glass vials, while Piramal has claimed that it could increase its production by 100 per cent just at a month’s notice, as per the Reuters report.

Other ancillary companies are also likely to benefit from the recent spurt in the manufacturing of the coronavirus vaccines. Pharmaceutical behemoths such as Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, Cadila Healthcare, logistics company FedEx, cold storage special Snowman Logistics and Hindustan Syringes & Medical Devices and many others stand to gain from the increased coronavirus vaccine manufacturing.

Hindustan Syringes has scaled up its capacity by 42 per cent to 1 billion units by June 2021. It has so far sold 140 million syringes that disable themselves after one use to the international vaccine distribution program COVAX.

The logistics companies also have a huge role to play in the transportation and shipping of the vaccines produced in India. Carrier Global, which operates 500 trucks with cold-storage facilities, have already asked their vendors to be on standby if there is a spurt in demand to transport vaccines from production site to vaccination centres.

Global logistics behemoth DHL is already involved in vaccine transportation work in India. It had recently brought in Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine for trials and claims that it will have a critical role to play in the foreseeable future in terms of exporting the vaccines and distributing them within the country.

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