The central government on Tuesday fast-tracked emergency approvals for foreign-produced vaccines that have been cleared in other countries. The move will allow quicker access to other vaccines and pave the way for imports, the government said.

In a statement, the Centre said the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19 discussed the matter of emergency approval on April 11.

At a press conference on Tuesday, VK Paul, NITI Aayog member and chairperson of the National Expert Committee on Vaccine Administration, invited international vaccine manufacturers Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to come to India as early as possible, NDTV reported.

This comes during an alarming rise in Covid-19 cases and a vaccine shortage in several states in India. So far, at least 10 states – Kerala, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Maharashtra, Odisha, Telangana, Punjab and Delhi – have reported vaccine shortages.

The group recommended that vaccines which have been developed in foreign countries and those which have been granted emergency approval for restricted use by the United States Food and Drug Administration, European Medicines Agency, United Kingdom’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency may be allowed for use in India.

The government said the first 100 beneficiaries of the approved foreign vaccines shall be assessed for seven days for safety outcomes before it is rolled out for further immunisation drive within the country.

“Vaccination is one of the critical pillar of Covid control and management strategy adopted by the Centre,” the government said in a statement. It added that India is following a comprehensive approach to rein in the pandemic in “a proactive and pre-emptive manner”.

The decision was also announced soon after the first foreign produced vaccine, Russia’s Sputnik V, got restricted emergency use approval in India. It is being developed in India in partnership with Dr Reddy’s Laboratories in Hyderabad, and is the third vaccine to get approved in the country after Serum Institute of India’s Covaxin and Bharat Biotech’s Covishield. Dr Reddy’s had applied for emergency-use authorisation for the vaccine in early February.

Last week, Johnson & Johnson had said it is in talks with the Indian government to start early-stage clinical trials of its single-dose coronavirus vaccine in the country. A shot developed by Cadila Healthcare Limited, Serum Institute’s Novavax and a nasal vaccine from Bharat Biotech are also expected to be approved for use this year.

India on Tuesday recorded 1,61,736 new cases of the coronavirus, according to numbers released by the Ministry of Health. This is the seventh straight day the country has reported over one lakh coronavirus cases. The country’s overall tally of infections since the pandemic broke out in March 2020 rose to 1,36,89,453.

Vaccine shortage amid steep rise in cases

Several states have written to the central government about vaccine shortages, even as the Union health ministry has denied any such shortage. Kerala on Tuesday became the latest state to ask for more vaccine doses, saying it would run out of the shots in three days.

The disputed vaccine shortages come while India is in the thick of a second wave of coronavirus cases.

Last week, the Centre had accused Opposition-ruled states of mismanagement and poor allocation of vaccines after Maharashtra became the first to flag a vaccine shortage. On April 9, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan had dismissed the concerns by several states, accusing them of “fear mongering”. He had pointed out that states not ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party were reporting a shortage, and added that more than 4.3 crore shots were in stock. However, many more states reported shortages in the following days.

India is currently in its third phase of vaccination, in which those above 45 years of age can be inoculated. Several chief ministers and leaders have asked the Centre to open up vaccines to all, but the central government has rejected this.

India’s largest vaccine manufacturer, the Serum Institute of India that makes the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine called Covishield, has also warned that it needed to ramp up vaccine production, but lacked the funds to do so.

Also read: Coronavirus: Kerala flags vaccine shortage, seeks 50 lakh shots immediately

Covid-19 vaccine production ‘very stressed’, need Rs 3,000 crore to scale up: Serum Institute chief