Aiming at a stiff vaccination target, the government has booked 30 crore doses of Hyderabad-based Biological-E's Covid vaccine, which is still in clinical trials. The Health Ministry will make an advance payment of Rs 1,500 crore to the company for what will be the second made-in-India vaccine to be used in the country after Bharat Biotech's Covaxin.
The doses will be manufactured and stockpiled by Biological-E from August to December and is likely to be available "in the next few months", says the ministry.
The move comes after massive criticism of the Centre's vaccination policy, which fell short when India was hit by a fierce second wave of Covid in March-April. The government had to pause exports of Covid shots under its "Vaccine Maitri" programme and scrambled to procure more doses to tackle shortage in the country. The slow roll-out has become a big concern as experts warn of a third wave of Covid.
Biological-E's vaccine is currently in Phase-3 clinical trials after showing promising results in Phase 1 and 2, said the government in a statement.
Besides Covaxin and Serum Institute of India's Covishield, Russia's Sputnik V will soon be used to vaccinate people as the government races towards a target of one crore vaccinations a day by August. It is also in talks with foreign makers like Pfizer and Moderna, who have insisted on an indemnity clause.
The new vaccine arrangement is "part of the wider endeavour of the government to encourage indigenous vaccine manufacturers" by providing them support in research and development and costs, the Centre said.
The government said Biological-E's shot was given Rs 100 crore in financial assistance by the Department of Biotechnology, which also partnered with the company to conduct various studies.
This is part of the government's mission to support five or six new COVID-19 vaccine candidates, said the statement.
Biological-E's indigenous was recommended for approval by the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 or NEGVAC.
Biological E also has a separate deal to produce about 600 million doses of Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 shot annually. The company said on Tuesday it entered into a licensing agreement with Providence Therapeutics Holdings to manufacture mRNA COVID-19 vaccines in India.