Minister of State for Health Ashwini Kumar Choubey told the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday that an intranasal vaccine candidate was in the early clinical stage of development in the country.

The intranasal vaccine is being developed by biotechnology company Bharat Biotech, he said. India is currently using Bharat Biotech’s Covid-19 vaccine, Covaxin, in its inoculation drive, besides Serum Institute of India’s Covishield.

The minister said that most vaccines are administered by injection through the muscle or subcutaneous layer (the layer of skin between the dermis and the epidermis) route but intranasal vaccines are given as a nasal spray and offer a needle-free approach.

Choubey was replying to a question by Rajya Sabha MP Parimal Nathwani. “The interval period [for the nasal vaccines] between the two doses is presently 21 days,” the minister said. “The schedule will be finalised after the Phase I Clinical Trial data. Currently, in Phase I clinical trial, single dose and two dose schedules are being tested.”

Replying to another question, he said that 81.59 lakh healthcare workers and 1.01 crore frontline workers have registered on the Co-WIN portal for coronavirus vaccination till March 2. “The first round of vaccination for these two category is expected to be completed by 6th March 2021,” he said.

When asked about the number of Covid-19 vaccines ordered by the Drugs Controller General of India, the minister clarified that the order is given by the Ministry of Health and Family Affairs. “A total of 660 lakh doses of Covid-19 vaccines have been ordered by Government of India,” he said. “These doses of Covid-19 vaccines are sufficient to cover Health Care Workers and Front Line Workers registered for initial phase of vaccination.”

The minister also said that the current rate of coronavirus vaccination is “satisfactory” and that it is being further improved by increasing the number of inoculation centres. He was responding to a question if the current rate of vaccination was sufficient to meet the government’s target to inoculate 30 crore people.

On a question whether the government is aware that the price at which Covishield vaccine is being procured by India is higher than what the European Union is paying, Choubey said that as per available information, the price of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine across the world is in the range of about $4-5.25 (approximately Rs 290-380).

“The Covishield vaccine [Oxford-Astra Zeneca vaccine] by M/s Serum Institute of India is being procured by Government of India at a lower price of INR 210 [including taxes] which is around US$ 2.7 per dose for the vaccination of Healthcare Workers and Front Line Workers,” Choubey said.

The minister said that the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19 was engaging with the vaccine manufacturers to get the shots at a fair price. “The manufacturer of Covishield have agreed to supply 10 crore doses at a price of INR 150+GST per dose for priority group of population above the age of 60 years and those aged between 45 to 60 years with comorbidity,” he added.

Meanwhile, India on Tuesday registered 15,388 new coronavirus cases, pushing the country’s tally to 1,12,44,786. The toll jumped by 77 to 1,57,930. The active cases went up to 1,87,462, constituting 1.67% of the total infections. The recoveries reached 1,08,99,394.