When it comes to vaccine making, India is a powerhouse.
It runs a massive immunisation programme, makes 60% of the world’s vaccines and is home to half a dozen major manufacturers, including Serum Institute of India – the largest in the world.
Not surprisingly, there’s no lack of ambition when it comes to vaccinating a billion people against Covid-19. India plans to receive and utilise some 500 million doses of vaccines against the disease and immunise up to 250 million people by July next year.
media captionCovid-19: Why mass vaccination will be a challenge for India
This confidence is bolstered by its track record of immunising large numbers of people every year. India’s 42-year-old immunisation programme, one of the world’s largest health programmes, targets 55 million people – mainly newborns and pregnant women who receive some 390 million free doses of vaccines against a dozen diseases every year. The country also has a well-oiled electronic system to stock and track these vaccines.
Yet vaccinating a billion people, including hundreds of millions of adults for the first time, against Covid-19 is going to be a daunting and unprecedented challenge, say experts.
Five of the 30 vaccine candidates being developed in India are in clinical trials. They include the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine which is being tested by Serum and a home-grown one being developed by Bharat BioTech. “Having a home-grown vaccine is a top priority,” Dr Renu Swarup, secretary of India’s Department of Biotechnology, told me.