A medic prepares to administer COVID vaccine during the first phase of the countrywide inoculation drive, in Bengaluru, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021. Photo: PTI/Shailendra Bhojak
New Delhi: India has scrapped local trials for “well-established” foreign coronavirus vaccines on Thursday as it tries to accelerate the vaccination rollout to counter the world’s worst surge in infections.
India this month recorded its highest COVID-19 death toll since the pandemic began last year, accounting for just over a third of the overall total.
Only about 3% of the country’s 1.3 billion people have been fully vaccinated, the lowest rate among the 10 countries with the most cases.
Thursday’s move will allow imports of shots developed by Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna with which India has been in talks with little success.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has faced mounting criticism for its failure to secure vaccines for its people as a devastating second wave rips through the vast hinterland.
“This is governance failure since India is one of the biggest vaccine producers,” Kaushik Basu, a former chief economic adviser to the government, wrote on Twitter.
“Good days will come but this vaccine lapse will be remembered.”
India has been inoculating its people with the AstraZeneca vaccine produced locally at the Serum Institute, Covaxin made by local firm Bharat Biotech, and has begun rolling out Russia’s Sputnik V.
But supplies are far short of the millions of doses the world’s second-most populous country needs.
Last month, India pledged to fast-track approvals for foreign vaccines but its insistence on local trials was a key reason for stalled discussions with Pfizer.
“The provision has now been further amended to waive the trial requirement altogether for the well-established vaccines manufactured in other countries,” the government said in a statement.
There was no immediate response from Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson to Reuters requests for comment.
The country reported 211,298 new infections on Thursday, still the world’s highest daily rise, but nearly half the daily infections it recorded earlier this month.
The overall case load is now at 27.37 million, while deaths stand at 315,235, according to health ministry data.
But experts believe that figure grossly underestimates the actual toll as only people who have tested positive are counted, whereas many victims were never tested.
The Reserve Bank of India, the central bank, stressed the global importance of vaccinations in its annual report.
“From this point in time, the global recovery and its outlook, including for India, will be contingent on the pace and coverage of vaccination and its efficacy against emerging variants of the virus,” it said.