NEW DELHI: Maharashtra state-owned company Haffkine Institute has received the Centre’s approval to manufacture Bharat Biotech International Ltd’s Covaxin, in a move that could improve supply of the indigenously-developed covid-19 vaccine.

“The Dept of Science & Technology, Government of India, has granted approval to Haffkine Institute to produce Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin vaccine on a transfer of technology basis,” Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray tweeted late Thursday.

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While Haffkine does not have a bio-safety level 3 (BSL3) production facility, it does have a laboratory of the category, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. BSL3 facilities are important to manufacture Covaxin, an inactivated virus vaccine, because it requires culturing of large batches of the highly-infectious SARS-COV2 before killing them with an inactivating agent.

Covaxin is currently only manufactured by Bharat Biotech at three plants in Hyderabad, which have a combined annual capacity of 200 million, or 16-17 million per month. However, the production of the vaccine is far behind the current demand for the vaccine, which has an efficacy of 80.6%.

Bharat Biotech is scaling up one of the plants in Hyderabad and also repurposing an animal vaccine unit at Hyderabad which will together take its capacity to 700 million doses annually. After some prodding by the Department of Biotechnology, the company is also in initial discussions with Panacea Biotec, the only other company apart from Bharat Biotech with BSL3 production facility, for contract manufacturing the vaccine.

However, the scaling up of Bharat Biotech’s own capacity and start of production of the vaccine at Panacea Biotec is likely to take at least two months even as the country faces an acute shortage of the vaccine.

The other covid-19 vaccine currently being used in Serum Institute of India’s Covishield, and the Pune-based firm has a capacity of 60-70 million per month.

In contrast, India has in the first half of April alone vaccinated over 50 million people, indicating that the country’s inoculation programme is racing much faster than production. A number of states, especially Maharashtra, are facing a shortage of vaccines.

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