The Union health ministry on Tuesday announced that it has signed an agreement with Bharat Biotech to procure 55 lakh doses of its coronavirus vaccine named Covaxin.

The announcement about the procurement came on the day the Serum Institute of India’s vaccine, Covishield, was shipped to several cities. The Centre has sealed a deal for 1.10 crore vaccine doses with the Pune-based drug firm Serum Institute of India.

Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said during Tuesday’s press briefing that the company will provide 38.5 lakh doses to the government at a price of Rs 295 each. Bhushan added that the Centre will receive 16.5 lakh doses for free as a special gesture, which will bring the cost of each dose to Rs 206.

Both Covaxin and Covishield vaccines will be administered in two doses.

The Centre indicated that the states and beneficiaries will not be given the option to choose between Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin and Serum Institute’s Covishield vaccines. “Many countries are using more than one vaccine,” Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said in response to a question on whether that choice will be available in India. “There is no such option available to the beneficiaries in any country.”

Bhushan urged people to follow coronavirus-related safety protocols, even after they get inoculated. “There is a gap of 28 days between the two doses and it is only after 14 days after receiving the second dose that effectiveness begins,” Bhushan said. “You cannot say I can do anything because I have received one dose or two doses. We request you with folded hands to follow appropriate behaviour even after getting the vaccine.”

The health secretary noted that even though coronavirus cases in India were declining, the global situation was concerning. Bhushan said only two states in India – Maharashtra and Kerala – had more than 50,000 active cases.

Meanwhile, NITI Aayog Member (Health) VK Paul said both the vaccines cleared in India were safe. “They have been tested on thousands of people and side-effects are negligible,” he said according to ANI. “There is no risk of any significance.”

India’s vaccination plan

The Centre is planning to inoculate 30 crore people in the first phase of the massive vaccination drive, which is scheduled to begin on January 16. This would require 60 crore vaccine doses.

On Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that the Centre will bear the cost of vaccinating about 3 crore healthcare and frontline workers against the coronavirus in the first phase of India’s massive inoculation drive. He added that people above the age of 50 and those with comorbidities will get the vaccine next. Experts have said that vaccinating a billion people, including hundreds of millions of adults for the first time, against Covid-19 will be a daunting task in the first tranche.

The government had approved Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech’s vaccines for emergency use on January 3. The Serum Institute is the local maker of Covishield, the vaccine developed by Oxford University and pharmaceuticals company AstraZeneca. Bharat Biotech has manufactured India’s first indigenous vaccine candidate Covaxin in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research and the National Institute of Virology. Experts have, however, questioned the government’s decision to clear Covaxin without the publication of data from its phase-3 human trials.

India on Tuesday registered 12,584 new coronavirus cases, taking the overall count to 1,04,79,179. This was the lowest daily rise in infections in seven months. The toll rose by 167 to1,51,327

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