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Oxford Covid-19 vaccine phase 3 trials begin in India: What to know

India Today logo India Today 18-08-2020 Milan Sharma
a close up of a bottle

The Union Health Ministry on Tuesday announced that phase III trials of the Oxford vaccine will begin this week in India.

It is likely that the Oxford University vaccine candidate -- Covishield -- will be the first one to move into production in India, sources have indicated to India Today TV.

The Oxford vaccine will begin phase III trials at 20 centres in India predominantly in Pune and Mumbai in Maharashtra and Ahmedabad in Gujarat. In this phase, the vaccine will be administered to 1,600 people.

"Some 20 different sites and hospitals across the country have been chosen, covering five different regions that are Covid-19 hotspots. We seek to conduct trials across 11-12 hospitals in partnership with ICMR," said a spokesperson of the Serum Institute, the Indian production partner of the Oxford vaccine.

WHO GETS IT FIRST?

But as India prepares to host phase III trials of the Oxford Covid vaccine, the top question on everyone's mind is just exactly who will get the first dose of the vaccine once it is approved for use in the real world?

Sources have indicated to India Today TV that those who have NOT been infected by the virus would likely be the first ones to get a dose of the vaccine.

"Those who have been infected with coronavirus and have developed antibodies against the virus will likely not fall in the priority category," they added.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had earlier said that healthcare workers and front-line workers should be given priority as initial vaccine candidates.

"Additionally, the vulnerable age group category could also be part of the first section of the population to get the coronavirus vaccine," a source aware of the vaccine development meetings said.

PRICING OF THE VACCINE

In order to decide on the procurement mechanisms for a Covid vaccine, including both indigenous and international manufacturers as well as the guiding principles for prioritization of population groups for vaccination, the government has set up a national expert group on vaccine administration.

The expert group has already met twice to discuss broad parameters guiding the selection of Covid-19 vaccine candidates for the country, and its production, pricing and distribution.

Dr VK Paul, who heads the national expert committee on vaccine administration, said about the recent meeting on India's Covid-19 vaccine race, "We have spoken to the main vaccine manufacturers about their individual capacities and have asked them to provide us details of the capacity of each to produce and store the vaccine. Another point discussed is how will this pan out, how they will ramp up capacity and how fast it can be facilitated," he said.

Dr Paul said the government has also asked manufacturers to indicate what the possible price of the vaccine could be so that there could be some possibility or insight into where the price range would be. "We are asking what kind of price range we are looking at," he said.

The Serum Institute of India (SII) had previously said that it has entered into a partnership with Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to produce 100 million vaccine doses for India and other low-income countries at the cost of $3 per dose.

However, now the vaccine maker says that the price could rise.

"$3 is a special price because of our recent association with GAVI and the Gates foundation. It is a risk-sharing price for the vaccine. The vaccine price could be slightly higher once all the licenses and approvals are in place. However, it is too soon to comment," said the Serum Institute spokesperson.

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