India has approved two vaccines — Covishield and Covaxin — for emergency use to fight the Covid-19 pandemic in the country. The mass vaccination drive is likely to begin over the next few days. Covishield is the same vaccine that is being used in other countries including the UK. India’s approval for Covaxin is conditional as it is still “in the clinical trial mode”. Here is a comparison between the two Covid-19 vaccines approved in India:
On safety concerns regarding the vaccines, Drugs Controller General of India, VG Somani said, “We will never approve anything if there’s slightest of safety concern. Vaccines are 110 % safe. Some side effects like mild fever, pain & allergy are common for every vaccine.”
Covishield has been developed by Oxford University scientists in collaboration with the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. In India, its trial was undertaken by the Serum Institute of India (SII), which is also manufacturing the Covishield vaccine for the mass vaccination drive.
Covaxin has been developed by the indigenous vaccine developer Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR). Its trial is in the final stage. The ICMR director-general Dr. Balram Bhargava said the full trial will be over in a week and by the time mass vaccination begins, the final set of data will be available.
How they were made
Covishield vaccine has been developed by using the virus — adenovirus — which causes common cold infections among chimpanzees. Its genetic material is the same as that of the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. Spike protein is the part of SARS-CoV-2 using which the virus enters a human body cell. Covishield vaccine has been developed by using a weakened version of the adenovirus.
The covaxin vaccine has been developed using dead coronavirus — called “inactivated” vaccine in medical language. Under an inactivated state, the virus is not capable of infecting people or replicating on its own inside the body of a person after being injected. But a shot of the vaccine prepares the immunity system to recognize the actual virus and fight it if and when infection happens.
While Covaxin is still in the final stage of clinical trial and no efficacy rate has been made public for this Covid-19 vaccine, the efficiency of Covishield has been pegged at over 70 percent. This efficacy rate is far below than the vaccines developed by Pfizer-NBiotech and Moderna, but it is above the qualifying efficacy benchmark of 50 percent set by several countries.
Both Covishield and Covaxin are two-dose Covid-19 vaccines. But in an interesting development that was considered as an inadvertent error, the Covishield vaccine was found to show over 90 percent efficacy if one and a half doses are given to the recipient. However, in India, the SII conducted trials using full two-shot doses during testing.
The two shots of the Covishield vaccine need to be spaced by six weeks. In the case of Covaxin, the interval between the two shots has not been yet prescribed by the Drug Controller General of India (DGCI) but its developer Bharat Biotech had earlier said the second shot would be given after 14 days.
Both Covishield and Covaxin vaccines are easy to store as they require to be kept at 2-8 degrees Celsius. Most vaccines commonly used in India are kept at this temperature range. This makes transport and local storage of both Covid-19 vaccines safe and easy for all parts of the country.
Though currently, the government is controlling the vaccination drive against Covid-19, and it is free. Different reports have cited different prices for both vaccines. The Covishield vaccine is reported to cost the government around Rs 400-450 or Rs 200-225 per dose.
The pricing of indigenously developed Covaxin is not clear yet. However, some reports say the Bharat Biotech has priced its Covid-19 vaccine at Rs 350.
In the backdrop of reports questioning the safety of the vaccines, the DGCI has said both Covishield and Covaxin are safe Covid-19 vaccines. DGCI VG Somani categorically said, “[Both] vaccines are 110 percent safe. Some side effects like mild fever, pain, and allergy are common for every vaccine.”
“We will never approve anything if there is slightest of safety concerns,” Somani said.
The vaccination plan
The government aims to vaccinate 30 crore people by July defining them as “priority population”. They include frontline health workers, essential duty personnel, and vulnerable sections of the population. The first batch of 3 crore people will be given the shots of Covid-19 vaccines by March. Vaccination will be done through registration on Co-WIN, the digital platform developed by the government agencies to facilitate and monitor the drive against the Covid-19 pandemic.