A medic holds Covid-19 vaccine Covaxin vials during the countrywide inoculation drive, in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021.
Vishal Bhatnagar | NurPhoto | Getty Images
India could become the world’s second largest Covid vaccine maker, and analysts say the country has the capacity to produce for both its own population and other developing countries.
Most of the world’s vaccines have historically come from India. Even before Covid-19, the South Asian country produced up to about 60% of the world’s vaccines — and can do so at a relatively low cost.
“India has been a manufacturing hub for vaccines … even before the pandemic, and should therefore be a strategic partner in the global inoculation against COVID-19,” JPMorgan analysts wrote in a report last month.
Consulting firm Deloitte predicts that India will be second only to the U.S. in terms of coronavirus vaccine production this year. PS Easwaran, a partner at Deloitte India, said more than 3.5 billion Covid vaccines could be made in the country in 2021, compared to around 4 billion in the U.S.
Furthermore, companies in India are currently scaling up production to meet demand.
“We are expanding our annualized capacities to deliver 700 million doses of our intramuscular COVAXIN,” said Indian firm Bharat Biotech, which developed a Covid vaccine together with the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research.
Covaxin has been approved for emergency use in India, but has been mired in controversy due to criticism that there was a lack of transparency in its approval, and also because it hasn’t published enough efficacy data.
Another vaccine — known as Covishield in India and co-developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford — has also been granted emergency approval in India. It is being produced locally by the Serum Institute of India (SII).
According to Reuters, SII makes around 50 million doses of Covishield every month, and plans to increase production to 100 million doses a month by March.
Other Indian companies have agreed to produce vaccines for developers such as the Russian Direct Investment Fund and U.S. firm Johnson & Johnson. To be clear, these vaccine candidates have not been approved for use yet.
“Even without successful vaccine development from their own pipelines, available capacity provides opportunity to partner as contract manufacturers with approved vaccine developers to meet supply needs particularly for India and other [emerging markets],” the JPMorgan report said.
India’s vaccines will likely be more suitable for developing countries, said K Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India.
Some of the leading vaccines right now, such as the ones from Pfizer–BioNTech and Moderna, make use of messenger RNA technology (mRNA) which uses genetic material to trigger the body’s own infection-fighting process.
Those vaccines require “stringent cold chain requirements” that will be difficult, or even “out of the realm of possibility,” for most health systems, Reddy said.
Vaccines made in India are easier to transport and cheaper, putting the country in a better position than the U.S. and Europe when it comes to meeting demand in the developing world, he added.
India’s huge production capacity also gives analysts confidence that the country can provide vaccines to other nations.
New Delhi has pledged to send vaccines to its neighboring countries, and has already supplied 15.6 million doses to 17 countries, according to Reuters.