The Serum Institute of India is working on an Omicron specific vaccine with Novavax, institute chief Adar Poonawalla told NDTV in an exclusive interview today. The vaccine will be specific to the BA5 sub-variant of Omicron and can be expected within six months, he said.
Earlier today, UK approved an updated version of the Moderna vaccine. The bi-valent vaccine targets the Omicron's BA.1 sub-variant as well as the original Covid strain.
"Think this vaccine is important as a booster," Mr Poonawalla told NDTV.
It is important for India to boost with an Omicron-specific vaccine, he added, pointing out that Omicron is "not mild" as is generally supposed.
"Although the new variant may not cause a lot of hospitalisations, it is very serious if you get it. It is like a bad case of the flu. It is in my opinion important to get this vaccine as a booster whenever you get it," he said.
But the vaccine's entry into the Indian market will depend on clearance by the Indian drug regulator. It is not yet clear whether a separate clinical trial is required in India.
"Trials of Novavax is in progress in Australia currently. By November-December should be in a position to approach the US drug regulator," Mr Poonawalla said.
"Whether we have to do a separate trial in India is yet to be decided. Our team is talking with the government officials… and we hope to have a vaccine at the end of this year or latest first quarter of next year," he said.
Parts of the country, including Delhi, have been witnessing a spike in Covid cases, driven by several sub-variants of Omicron. Last week, Covid Task Force chief NK Arora told NDTV that the strains of Omicron circulating in Delhi are more infectious than the base strain that surfaced in January this year.
The current strains doing the rounds in Delhi – like the sub-lineages of Omicron B5 and B2 -- are 20 to 30 per cent more infectious than the base Omicron variant, he said.
The effectiveness of the vaccines in preventing infections, meanwhile, has dropped by 20 to 30 per cent, he had added.
While vaccines have helped lower deaths and hospitalisations, the current jabs are aimed mainly at the earlier strains of the disease.
In July, the World Health Organization warned that the pandemic was "nowhere near over" due to the spread of Omicron sub-variants and the lifting of Covid control measures.