India has authorised emergency use of Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine, the health ministry said Tuesday, as infection rates soar to record highs and some major cities boost their hospital bed capacity.
Sputnik V is the third vaccine to be approved by India after the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot and Covaxin, which was developed by Indian firm Bharat Biotech.
The recommendations of an expert panel (SEC) had been accepted to authorise its use, the health ministry said in a statement.
“The SEC recommended for grant of permission for restricted use in emergency situations subject to various regulatory provisions.”
G.V. Prasad, co-chair of pharmaceutical company Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, said his firm was “very pleased to obtain the emergency use authorisation”.
“With the rising cases in India, vaccination is the most effective tool in our battle against COVID-19,” he added.
The South Asian nation of 1.3 billion people has been battling a huge surge in virus cases in recent weeks that has prompted night curfews and a clampdown on movement and activities.
India on Monday reported more than 161,000 new cases—the seventh-consecutive day that more than 100,000 infections have been recorded.
In India’s financial and film capital Mumbai, city authorities said Monday that three more field hospitals, each with 2,000 beds including 200 for intensive care, would be built in the next six weeks.
In the national capital New Delhi, officials said Monday that the number of beds for COVID-19 patients would be ramped up, while 14 larger hospitals would be turned into dedicated virus facilities.
The chief minister in New Delhi, has said that two thirds of new COVID-19 patients were younger than 45.
Sputnik V, backed by the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), already has production agreements in India to produce 852 million doses.
RDIF chief executive Kirill Dmitriev said in a statement that the approval was a “major milestone” after “extensive cooperation” on clinical trials of the shot in India.
Experts welcomed the authorisation but warned that the vaccine was unlikely to be available for use in the near-term.
“It’s good news as it will boost the supply of vaccines in India… but it’s not going to do too much for the current surge (in cases),” virologist Shahid Jameel told AFP.
Dmitriev told Indian broadcaster NDTV that the first doses could be ready by late April or May, with ramped up production by June.
“We believe by June, we will really be at good production capacity in India and will become a very meaningful player in vaccination programme in India,” he added.
India, home to the world’s biggest vaccine manufacturer, kicked off its inoculation drive in mid-January and has administered more than 108 million shots so far.
But the government’s ambitious goal of vaccinating 300 million people by the end of July has been hit by reports of stock shortages in some states and vaccine hesitancy.
The government has also slowed its export of jabs due to the rise in cases.