Weeks after the government said the made-in-India Covaxin shot is effective against mutants, its manufacturer Bharat Biotech has revealed that there is "no information yet" about the vaccine's effectiveness against Covid variants and data is expected in a week.
During a session at the annual Leadership Conclave organised by All India Management Association, Bharat Biotech chairperson Krishna Ella told NDTV's Sreenivasan Jain that the government has to ask for a vaccine specific to the new double mutant that is pushing the current surge of virus cases.
The comments appear to contradict what the government has been saying about Covaxin's effectiveness against variants. "The need to change composition of Covaxin has not been felt yet in view of good efficacy of the vaccine against variants," Union Minister Ashwini Choubey had told parliament in March.
Recently, officials were quoted as saying that Covaxin is effective against both the UK and Brazilian variants.
"I don't know about the South African. variant yet, but coming to the Indian double mutant, we don't have knowledge, we will have data in about a week," Dr Ella told NDTV in an exclusive interview.
"If the Indian government feels that the double mutant might be an important vaccine candidate, this is regulatory, the government has to take the decision, not a manufacturer. There is flexibility."
The decision, he said, would come from the government.
He was asked whether it meant we are still waiting on data to be able to gauge whether the vaccine is effective against the double mutant.
"I don't want people to bug me saying you said one week...it takes time for us because it has to work in BSL 3 (Biosafety level 3). We are very serious about it, how do we need to put the regulatory people in the game and change the strain quickly? We don't want a vaccine which doesn't work," Dr Ella said.
The new variant, called B.1.617, was initially detected in India with two mutations. It was first reported late last year by a scientist in India and more details were presented before the WHO recently, according to a Bloomberg report.
The health ministry first acknowledged the presence of a double mutant last month. Since then, the double mutation has been found in 10 countries, including Australia, Germany, UK and the US.