India clears world’s first DNA vaccine, children over 12 to get the Covid jab

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India has approved the world’s first DNA vaccine against Covid-19 to speed up its immunisation program with the second locally-developed jab. The announcement came as drug regulators cleared it for children aged 12 and above.

The Ahmadabad-based Zydus Cadila plans to make 120 million doses of its ZyCoV-D shot every year, the Indian company said.

The price of the three-dose vaccine will be announced in the next couple of weeks, company managing director Sharvil Patel added.

On 1 July, the firm listed as Cadila Healthcare Ltd. applied for authorisation of the DNA vaccine, based on an efficacy rate of 66.6 percent in a final-stage trial involving more than 28,000 volunteers nationwide.

“A momentous feat indeed,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, hailing the “innovative zeal of India's scientists”.

The company called the vaccine’s success a tribute to those who worked on the DNA shot which previously worked in animals but not humans.

“We are extremely happy that our efforts to put out a safe, well tolerated and efficacious vaccine to fight Covid-19 has become a reality,” company chairman Pankaj R. Patel said.

No needles necessary

Rajib Dasgupta, a public health expert at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University said the vaccine, which will be administered through a jet placed on the skin and not with the help of needles, had an edge over other jabs.

“As mutations will keep happening it is not possible for all vaccines to be re-engineered every time and therefore the theoretical advantage this vaccine offers is what is called a plug-and-play technology,” Dasgupta said.

“It is anticipated that this would be able to respond to various mutations and not be very specific to a variant,” the expert told Mirror Now TV station.

Health experts said ZyCoV-D’s mechanism was designed to coat the cells in a recipient’s body which will help the immune system to “recognise” a threat and develop antibodies.

Relief for schools

Prominent epidemiologist Chandrakant Laharia called the approval a red letter day for India’s vaccine-producing industry, the world’s largest.

The announcement also brought some relief to pandemic-ravaged states which were wary of calling back school-age children to the classroom.

Friday’s green light makes Zydus Cadila’s vaccine the second locally-produced shot accepted for emergency use after Covaxin, developed by privately-owned Bharat Biotech and two state-run medical research groups.

US pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson has also sought permission to conduct vaccine trials on Indian adolescents.

"We remain deeply committed to the critical work needed to make our Covid-19 vaccine equitably accessible for all age groups," the company said.

Earlier this month, India gave emergency approval for its single-dose vaccine, making Johnson & Johnson the fifth authorised supplier in the country.

Mammoth target

India has so far given more than 570 million doses of three previously approved vaccines --- British-developed AstraZeneca which is locally branded as Covishield, Russian-made Sputnik V and Covaxin.

Thirteen percent of adults have been fully vaccinated and nearly 47 percent have received at least one shot since the start of the rollout on 16 January.

India promises to inoculate its adult population of 950 million by the year end but the drive has been hit by shortages.

With more than 32 million infections and 434,000 Covid-linked deaths India is the world’s second worst-hit country after the United States.

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