The Centre on Thursday allowed Mumbai-based pharmaceutical company Haffkine Biopharma Corporation to manufacture the Covaxin shot for coronavirus, The Hindu reported. The decision was taken following Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s request to the Centre to allow transfer of technology of the vaccine to Haffkine from Bharat Biotech.

Haffkine Biopharma is owned by the Maharashtra government. The state government had sent the proposal to the Centre in the last week of February suggesting that the infrastructure of Haffkine could be used to ramp up the number of vaccines produced in the country.

Late on Thursday, Thackeray confirmed the development and thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the approval.

In a letter to Maharashtra Chief Secretary Sitaram Kunte, the Union secretary for science and technology Renu Swarup said that Haffkine has been allowed to produce Covaxin for a year, The Indian Express reported. “In view of the current growing infection and demand for vaccines, Haffkine should start production as soon as possible,” the letter stated.

Haffkine has said it has the capacity to manufacture 2.2 crore doses of the vaccine annually, Maharashtra Health Secretary Pradeep Vyas told The Indian Express. Earlier, the state’s Health Minister Rajesh Tope had said that Maharashtra will want to retain 25% of the stock of vaccine manufactured by Haffkine, while the rest would be shared with the Centre.

Vaccine shortage

The decision is expected to address, to some extent, the vaccine shortage faced by Maharashtra. Last week, Tope had said that the state needed 40 lakh vaccines a week to be able to inoculate 6 lakh to 7 lakh people a day. Currently, Maharashtra is vaccinating 2.5 lakh to 3 lakh people a day.

Various other entities have also asked the Centre to allow production of vaccines on a wider scale. The All India People’s Science Network on Thursday said that the Centre should allow other Indian manufacturers to produce the Bharat Biotech vaccine.

So far, at least 10 states – Kerala, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Maharashtra, Odisha, Telangana, Punjab and Delhi – have reported vaccine shortages. Scarcity of vaccines during the second wave of the pandemic has forced some states to turn beneficiaries away.

However, the Centre has repeatedly dismissed state governments’ concerns.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on Tuesday claimed there was no shortage of vaccines in the country, and the supply problem was due to bad planning by the states. 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.

Meanwhile, amid the surge in cases and demands to expand inoculation, the Drugs Controller General of India on Tuesday approved the emergency use of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. The government also 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 Centre said.