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WHO warns Delta variant virus is getting ‘fitter and faster’

GENEVA, July 30: Cases and deaths resulting from COVID-19 continue to climb worldwide, mostly fuelled by the highly transmissible Delta variant, which has spread to 132 countries, said the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday.

Almost 4 million cases worldwide were reported last week to WHO and the agency expects the total number of cases to pass 200 million, in the next two weeks.

“And we know this is an underestimate”, underscored Director-General Tedros Adhanom Gebreyesus during his regular COVID-19 briefing.

Infections have increased in every region of the world, with some even reaching 80 per cent more in the past month. In Africa, deaths have increased by 80 per cent over the same period, the official warned.

Tedros blamed the rise of cases on increased social mixing and mobility, the inconsistent use of public health and social measures, and inequitable vaccine use. He said “hard-won gains” are in jeopardy or being lost, and health systems in many countries are increasingly overwhelmed.

“WHO has warned that the COVID-19 virus has been changing since it was first reported, and it continues to change. So far, four variants of concern have emerged, and there will be more as long as the virus continues to spread”, he underscored.

Lead WHO epidemiologist and COVID-19 technical lead, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, explained that the Delta variant has certain mutations that allow the virus to adhere to human cells more easily and that experts are also seeing a higher viral load in individuals infected.

She called Delta “dangerous and the most transmissible SARS-CoV-2 virus to date”.

“There are some laboratory studies that suggest that there’s increase replication in some of the modelled human airway systems”, she added.

In terms of severity, Dr. Van Kerkhove highlighted that there has been an increase in hospitalizations in certain countries affected by the variant, “but we haven’t yet seen an increase in mortality”.

The WHO expert reminded that although there is some data that suggest that people vaccinated can get infected and transmit the variant, the likelihood is much reduced after the second dose has been administered and reached full effectiveness.

She also clarified that Delta is not specifically targeting children as some reports have suggested, but warned that as long as the variants are circulating, they will infect anybody that is not taking proper precautions.

“It’s in the virus’s interests to evolve, viruses are not alive they don’t have a brain to think through this, but they become more fit the more they circulate, so the virus will likely become even more transmissible because this is what viruses do, they evolve they change overtime”, Dr. Van Kerkhove warned, echoing Tedros’ remarks.

“We have to do what we can to drive it down”, she added, reminding that public health and social measures do work against the Delta variant, and that the vaccines do prevent disease and death.

Dr. Michael Ryan, Executive Director of WHO Health Emergencies, said that even with the virus getting “faster and fitter” the gameplan does not change, but It needs to be implemented more efficiently.

“Delta is a warning that this virus is evolving, but it is also a call to action before more dangerous variants emerge”, he said.

Last month, the WHO chief announced the setting up of a technology transfer hub for mRNA vaccines In South Africa as part of WHO’s efforts to scale up production of vaccines and their distribution in Africa.

“Today we have taken another step forward, with a letter of intent that sets out the terms of collaboration signed by the partners in the hub: WHO; the Medicines Patent Pool; Afrigen Biologics; the Biologicals and Vaccines Institute of Southern Africa; the South African Medical Research Council and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention”, Tedros explained.

He added that WHO’s goal remains to aid every country in vaccinating at least 10% of its population by the end of September, at least 40% by the end of this year, and 70% by the middle of next year.

“We are a long way off achieving those targets. So far, just over half of countries have fully vaccinated 10% of their population, less than a quarter of countries have vaccinated 40%, and only 3 countries have vaccinated 70%”, Tedros warned.

The WHO head reminded that the global distribution of vaccines remains unjust, despite expert warnings and appeals, and said that all regions remain at risk, “none more so, than Africa”.

“On current trends, nearly 70% of African countries will not reach the 10% vaccination target by the end of September”, he cautioned.

Tedros also announced that on response to the Delta surge, the WHO’s Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator is launching the Rapid ACT-Accelerator Delta Response, or RADAR, and issuing an urgent call for 7.7 billion U.S. dollars for tests, treatments and vaccines.

WHO sounds fresh alarm on global COVID-19 deaths

GENEVA, July 29: Sounding an alarm, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said that a "sharp" jump was reported in the number of the global COVID-19 deaths in the week between July 19-25.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the world health body said that with over 69,000 fatalities, the number of COVID-19 deaths reported during the period increased by 21 per cent week-on-week.

Most of the new deaths were reported from the Americas and South-East Asia Regions, the WHO said in its report. Meanwhile, the global number of new COVID-19 cases also increased, with 3.8 million new infections confirmed in the above-mentioned week.

The number of new cases rose by 8 per cent compared with the previous week, which was largely attributed to substantial increases in the Americas and the Western Pacific Regions, the WHO report added.

As of Thursday, the overall global COVID-19 caseload has increased to 195,865,047, while the deaths have surged to 4,185,754 and vaccinations soared to 3,960,681,747, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The US continues to be the worst COVID-hit country with the world`s highest number of cases and deaths at 34,668,545 and 611,779, respectively.

Despite the vaccination of 50 percent of the population, cases of coronavirus infection have started increasing rapidly in America. This speed is so fast that it has even left India behind in terms of average cases per day.

This is the fourth wave of coronavirus that has griped America these days.

Pfizer, AstraZeneca vaccine antibody levels may decline after 2-3 months: Lancet study

LONDON, July 27: Total antibody levels start to wane six weeks after complete immunisation with Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines, and can reduce by more than 50 per cent over 10 weeks, according to study published in The Lancet journal.

The researchers from University College London (UCL) in the UK noted that if the antibody levels carry on dropping at this rate, there are concerns that the protective effects of the vaccines may also begin to wear off, particularly against new variants.

However, they said, how soon that might happen cannot be predicted yet.

The UCL Virus Watch study also found that antibody levels are substantially higher following two doses of the Pfizer vaccine than after two shots of the AstraZeneca preventive, known as Covishield in India.

Antibody levels were also much higher in vaccinated people than those with prior SARS-CoV-2 infection, they said.

'The levels of antibody following both doses of either the AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccine were initially very high, which is likely to be an important part of why they are so protective against severe COVID-19,' said Madhumita Shrotri from UCL Institute of Health Informatics.

'However, we found these levels dropped substantially over the course of two to three months,' Shrotri said in a statement.

The findings based on data from over 600 people aged 18 and above were consistent across all groups of people regardless of age, chronic illnesses or sex, according to the researchers.

The authors highlight that although the clinical implications of waning antibody levels are not yet clear, some decline was expected and current research shows that vaccines remain effective against severe disease.

For Pfizer, antibody levels reduced from a median of 7506 Units per millilitre (U/mL) at 21–41 days, to 3320 U/mL at 70 or more days.

For AstraZeneca vaccine, antibody levels reduced from a median of 1201 U/mL at 0–20 days to 190 U/mL at 70 or more days, over five-fold reduction.

'When we are thinking about who should be prioritised for booster doses our data suggests that those vaccinated earliest, particularly with the AstraZeneca vaccine, are likely to now have the lowest antibody levels,' said Professor Rob Aldridge from UCL Institute of Health Informatics.

The findings support recommendations that adults who are clinically vulnerable, those aged 70 years or over, and all residents of care homes for older adults should be prioritised for booster doses, the researchers said.

In addition, those who were vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine are likely to have much lower antibody levels than those vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine, they noted.

'This may also need to be considered when deciding who should be prioritised when boosters are rolled out,' Aldridge said in the statement.

The team acknowledged certain limitations in the data, including a small sample size for some groups.

The researchers noted that that each individual only contributed one sample, so they cannot yet confirm how quickly antibody levels drop for each individual, or whether these would continue to drop or reach a stable level over the next few months.

They also noted that different people will have different levels of immunity depending on the virus neutralising ability of their antibodies as well as their T-cell responses.

'Even when measurable antibody levels are low, there is likely to be continuing immune memory that could offer long-term protection,' the authors of the study noted.

They said further research will be important to establish if there is an antibody level threshold needed for protection against severe disease.

Covid-19 antibodies last 9 months after infection, claims study

LONDON, July 19: The antibody levels against the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2 virus) remains at high levels for at least nine months, whether symptomatic or asymptomatic infections, based on the data analysed from an Italian town.

“Researchers from the University of Padua and Imperial College London tested more than 85 percent of the 3,000 residents of Vo’, Italy, in February/March 2020 for infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and tested them again in May and November 2020 for antibodies against the virus,” the Imperial College London said in its website on Monday.

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications, an open access journal, on Monday. As per the team’s findings, 98.8 per cent of the residents that were found Covid-19 positive in February or March 2020 were found with detectable levels of antibodies in November 2020.

The team used three assays, tests that detect antibodies that respond to different parts of the virus. “The results showed that while all antibody types showed some decline between May and November, the rate of decay was different depending on the assay,” the Imperial College London said.

Meanwhile, the antibody levels were found to have increased in some people, suggesting potential cases of re-infection by the virus and providing a boost to the immune system.

“We found no evidence that antibody levels between symptomatic and asymptomatic infections differ significantly, suggesting that the strength of the immune response does not depend on the symptoms and the severity of the infection,” the lead author of the study Dr Ilaria Doreigatti, from the Imperial College London said.

“However, our study does show that antibody levels vary, sometimes markedly, depending on the test used. This means that caution is needed when comparing estimates of infection levels in a population obtained in different parts of the world with different tests and at different times” the author further said.

The infection status of household members was also analysed to estimate how likely an infected person is to pass on the infection within the household. A probability of about one in four that the virus is transmitted within a household. It also showed that most transmission (79 per cent) is caused by 20 per cent of infections.

According to the team, the finding confirms that the majority of infections doesn’t generate further infections and only a minority of the infections caused a large number of infections. It also showed that physical distancing, limiting the number of contacts and wearing face masks continue to remain important measures in reducing the risk of transmission even in highly vaccinated populations.

The data also showed that in the absence of case isolation and short lockdowns, manual contact tracing alone would not have been enough to suppress the pandemic, the Imperial College further said.

WHO chief says COVID-19 lab leak theory possible

GENEVA, July 17: World Health Organization (WHO) chief Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has acknowledged the possibility of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 leaking from a laboratory.

Undermining WHO's own March report, in which it concluded that a laboratory leak was "extremely unlikely," Dr. Tedros told reporters in Geneva that it would be "premature" to rule out the link between the virus and laboratory leak. Here are more details.

Dr. Tedros told reporters that the WHO is "asking China to be transparent, open and cooperate, especially on the information, raw data that we asked for at the early days of the pandemic." He also alleged that China did not share this data with the WHO team during the first investigation and called for clear information on China's laboratory in Wuhan.

Stating that the "lab leak" theory can be omitted only if the agency gets all the information, he said, "We need information, direct information on what the situation of this lab was before and at the start of the pandemic." "I was a lab technician myself. I'm an immunologist, and I have worked in the lab, and lab accidents happen. It's common," he said.

Dr. Tedros's comments came at a time when the idea that the pandemic started in a Chinese laboratory is gaining momentum once again. US President Joe Biden had also ordered intelligence to probe the possibility in May. This was preceded by US infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci's comment that he is not totally convinced that the virus was "developed naturally."

China responded to this changed stand of the WHO and denied that international experts were not given adequate information to investigate. It also reminded the WHO of its March report, where it stated that the "lab leak leading the outbreak is extremely unlikely."

Last year, China had allowed international experts led by the WHO to investigate the coronavirus' origins. The Associated Press had then reported that the WHO was frustrated by the lack of details shared by China. Experts had also called for an independent probe and had questioned the WHO for its failure to extract critical details about the pandemic from China.

Beijing-based vet, who was confirmed as China's first human infection case with Monkey B virus, dies: Report

BEIJING, July 18: A Beijing-based veterinarian who was confirmed as China's first human infection case with Monkey B virus (BV) has died, amid rising concerns. Meanwhile, a person infected with the monkeypox virus has been detected in Texas, US.

Global Times citing the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the 53-year-old vet showed early-onset symptoms of nausea and vomiting a month after he dissected two dead monkeys in early March. The vet sought treatment in several hospitals and eventually died on May 27, said the journal.

Meanwhile, his family members are reportedly safe from the virus.

The vet used to works for an institution researching on non-human primates.

Global Times stated, there were no fatal or even clinically evident BV infections in China before, thus the vet's case marks the first human infection case with BV identified in China.

Researchers have collected the cerebrospinal fluid of the veterinarian in April and identified him as positive for BV, yet samples of his close contacts suggested negative results for the virus, reported Global Times.

The journal suggested that BV in monkeys might pose a potential threat to occupational workers.

A rare case of a person infected with the monkeypox virus has been detected in the US state of Texas, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said.

"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Texas Department of State Health Services confirmed on July 15 a case of human monkeypox in a US resident who recently traveled from Nigeria to the United States," the CDC in a press release said on Friday.

The infected individual is currently hospitalised in the city of Dallas. The individual travelled from Lagos, Nigeria, to Dallas with a layover stop in Atlanta, and health officials are working to contact airline passengers and others who may have had contact with the infected individual, the release said.

According to CDC, Monkeypox is a rare but potentially serious viral illness that typically begins with flu-like illness and swelling of the lymph nodes and progresses to a widespread rash on the face and body. Most infections last 2-4 weeks. Monkeypox is in the same family of viruses as smallpox but causes a milder infection.

Covid-19 Vaccines Not Detected in Breast Milk, mRNA Jabs Safe in Lactation: Study

SAN FRANCISCO, July 18: Vaccines against Covid-19 were not detected in human milk, according to a small study, indicating vaccine safety for pregnant and lactating women and providing early evidence that the shots are not transferred to the infant.

Researchers from the University of California-San Francisco (UCSF) analysed the breast milk of seven women after they received the mRNA vaccines — Pfizer and Moderna — and found no trace of the vaccines that are known to inhibit transmission of SARS-CoV2, a virus that causes Covid-19.

The study, detailed in JAMA Pediatrics, offers the first direct data of vaccine safety during breastfeeding and could allay concerns among those who have declined vaccination or discontinued breastfeeding due to concern that vaccination might alter human milk.

The World Health Organisation recommends that breastfeeding people be vaccinated, and the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine has said there is a little risk of vaccine nanoparticles or mRNA entering breast tissue or being transferred to milk, which theoretically could affect infant immunity.

“The results strengthen current recommendations that the mRNA vaccines are safe in lactation, and that lactating individuals who receive the Covid vaccine should not stop breastfeeding,” said Stephanie L. Gaw, Assistant Professor of Maternal-Foetal Medicine at UCSF.

“We didn’t detect the vaccine associated with mRNA in any of the milk samples tested,” said lead author Yarden Golan, a postdoctoral fellow at UCSF. “These findings provide experimental evidence regarding the safety of the use of mRNA-based vaccines during lactation.”

The study was conducted from December 2020 to February 2021. The mothers’ mean age was 37.8 years and their children ranged in age from one month to three years. Milk samples were collected prior to vaccination and at various times up to 48 hours after vaccination.

Researchers found that none of the samples showed detectable levels of vaccine mRNA in any component of the milk.

However, the authors noted that the study was limited by the small sample size and said that further clinical data from larger populations were needed to better estimate the effect of the vaccines on lactation outcomes.

2 vaccine doses gave 95% protection from death against Covid-19's Delta variant: Centre

NEW DELHI, July 16: The Union health ministry of Friday cited a large-scale, real-life study conducted by the Indian Council of Medical Research and said that two doses of Covid-19 vaccines, irrespective of Covishield and Covaxin, were successful to extend 95 per cent protection from death.

The study was conducted during the peak of the second wave of the pandemic, which was driven by the Delta variant, Niti Aayog member (health) Dr VK Paul said.

The study was done on 1,17,525 police personnel in Tamil Nadu. Among them, 17,059 received no vaccine and 20 succumbed to the infection. A total of 32,792 police personnel received only one dose and this group recorded seven deaths. Only four deaths were recorded in the third group of 67,673 people, who were vaccinated with both doses.

Next 100 days crucial, says Union health ministry amid Covid 3rd wave fears

"If we examine the findings, we see that one dose gave 82 per cent protection from death while two doses gave 95 per cent protection from Covid-19 death. This study was done on a high-risk population at a time when the pandemic was at its peak. And we all know that Delta was driving the peak of the second wave," Dr Paul said reiterating that vaccines are proving to be effective against Delta variant too.

Delta has emerged as the latest threat in front of the world as it is believed to be driving the third wave of the pandemic, the effect of which is already being felt in many countries, including the United Kingdom, Spain, the Netherlands, Bangladesh, Indonesia, South Korea, Thailand etc.

First reported in India in October 2020, Delta has now spread in over 111 countries. Scientists have found further mutations of this variant in India, which has been named Delta Plus, another variant of concern. But government's experts have recently asserted that Delta Plus is unlikely to be as transmissible and severe as Delta is.

Fauci Terms Delta Strain Of Covid As 'Nasty Variant'

WASHINGTON, July 11: US top coronavirus adviser Dr Anthony Fauci on Sunday (local time) characterised the Delta strain of COVID-19 as a "nasty variant".

"It is very clear that this is a nasty variant. It has a much greater capacity of transmitting from person to person," Fauci said, adding that the COVID vaccines that are being used in America to fight the coronavirus "are working very well" and do protect against the Delta variant.

"The bad news is that we have a very nasty variant, the good news is that we have a vaccine that works against it," The Hill quoted Fauci's interview with ABC's "This Week."

The nation's leading infectious disease doctor also voiced concern for what he called a "schism between some states and some areas that have a very low level of vaccination."

US President Joe Biden last week renewed a call for all Americans to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, saying his administration is prepared to be more aggressive in fighting vaccine misinformation and eliminating barriers to inoculation for all citizens, The Hill reported.

"It's never been easier, and it's never been more important," Biden said. "Do it now for yourself and the people you care about, for your neighborhood, for your country. It sounds corny, but it is a patriotic thing to do."

Stressing that the science is clear, he said that the best way to protect an individual against the virus and the variants is to be fully vaccinated. "It works. It is free. It is safe. It is easy. And it is convenient," he added.

The head of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases also said he is "quite concerned" about the Delta variant in the US.

Experts warn as UK reports highest new Covid cases since Jan 22

LONDON, July 10: As the United Kingdom prepares for dropping most of the pandemic-induced restrictions on July 19, experts are concerned about the government's approach amid rising cases of coronavirus disease (Covid-19).

The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AMRC) on Friday warned that “things will get worse before they get better.” The coordinating body of the UK and Ireland's 23 medical royal colleges and faculties said in a statement that the country is already in the turmoil of the third wave of coronavirus, highlighting the dramatic rise in Covid-19 cases.

AMRC said the National Health Service (NHS) is currently under unprecedented pressure for a combination of reasons, not all of which are yet clear. “People who stayed away from the NHS during the pandemic are now coming forward, some of them with more serious problems because of the delay in seeking help,” they added.

On Friday, the UK reported more than 35,000 infections, the highest in over five months. On average, it has been recording about 410 cases per million people over the past week, one the highest cases in the world per capita. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has branded the July 19 reopening as “Freedom Day” but experts are worried about the message.

Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of AMRC, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that “there seems to be a misapprehension that life will return to normal from then [July 19], and that we can throw away all the precautions, and frankly, that would be dangerous.”

“We all want to make sure that the public is fully aware that this pandemic is far from over and that when the 19th comes, what we need is a responsible approach and a very cautious approach to relaxing restrictions,” she added.

AMRC said that the country will see a rise in other respiratory infections as well Covid-19 cases, adding to the pressures on the NHS when hospitals are trying to tackle the huge backlog in elective work which has built up over the pandemic.

“It is like the worst of a bad winter in July,” it said, urging the public to continue to show caution in their approach.

1,206 Covid Deaths In India In 24 Hours, 42,766 Fresh Cases

NEW DELHI, July 10: India today added 42,766 new Covid cases in the last 24 hours, slightly lower than yesterday's 43,393 cases. Kerala leads the states with most number of cases in a day. The country has so far reported 3,07,95,716 cases and 4,07,145 deaths.

Here are the top 10 updates on coronavirus in India:

The daily positivity rate - number of positive cases identified per 100 - is 2.19 per cent, less than 3 per cent for 19 straight days. Recovery rate stands at 97.20 per cent.

From 911 Covid deaths yesterday, the number today has shot up to 1,206. Total deaths in the country due to Covid are at 4,07,145.

Kerala with 13,563 fresh Covid cases leads the states in most number of infections over a 24-hour period. It is followed by Maharashtra (8,992), Tamil Nadu (3,039), Karnataka (2,290).

The centre has warned against laxity in following Covid-appropriate behaviour, with particular reference to disquieting visuals from the past few days of large crowds at popular holiday and tourist destinations. The Health Ministry has described the situation as "cause for concern", and reminded people the virus spreads aggressively in crowded places.

The devastating second wave of Covid in March April is not yet over, the government has warned, urging people to keep following precautions like avoiding crowds and wearing masks. Most of the cases now are being reported from Maharashtra and Kerala.

Two cases of the highly transmissible Kappa variant of COVID-19 have been detected in Uttar Pradesh through the genome sequencing of samples, the state government said Friday. The Kappa variant has been characterised by WHO as a Variant of Interest. A top state official said cases of this variant were found in the state earlier as well.
The Delhi government, in anticipation of a possible third wave of infections, has readied a Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) to tackle a spike in cases in the coming weeks.

The country's overall vaccination shortfall is 54 per cent with Bihar, Rajasthan and West Bengal having the highest inoculation shortfall, according to an analysis of publicly available data.

At least 90 per cent of samples in Tripura that were sent for genome sequencing have been found to be containing the highly transmissible Delta Plus variant, said a top state official. Tripura - which is the first northeastern state to report the new strain - now has 138 cases of the deadly and highly infectious variant of COVID-19.

The Haryana government has given a go-ahead to resume offline classes in both government and private schools in the state. Offline classes will resume for students of Classes 9-12 from July 16. For Classes 6-8, the offline classes will resume from July 23.

Delta Plus Not Presently A 'Variant Of Concern' For WHO: Chief Scientist

NEW DELHI, July 1: The Delta Plus variant of the coronavirus is not presently a "variant of concern" for the World Health Organisation and its infection numbers are still low, said Chief Scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan.

She also said there was "no logic" for some nations blocking Covishield from their vaccine passport programme, which will allow hassle-free travel during the pandemic.

"This was done mostly on a technicality since the AstraZeneca vaccine is available under a different brand in Europe," Dr Swaminathan said.

She said the WHO was in talks with the European medical regulator to include Covishield in the vaccine passports.

Speaking about the agency's approval of Covaxin, she said a decision was likely by the second week of August.

The Delta plus variant, a new mutant version of the Delta strain first detected in India was classified as a "variant of concern" by the government last month as it warned states to be on guard.

At a time India is emerging from the deadly second wave of Covid and cases have dropped, Delta Plus cases have been found in at least 12 states. Globally, more than 12 countries have detected Delta Plus cases.

The new Delta Plus variant is technically named B.1.617.2.1 or AY.1 and has been formed due to a mutation called K417N in the Delta or B.1.617.2 variant. According to experts, the mutation is in the spike protein of SARS-COV-2, which helps the virus enter and infect human cells.

Moderna Approved For Emergency Use, 4th Vaccine Okayed By India

NEW DELHI, June 29: The government today cleared the fourth vaccine for emergency use in the country, the US-made Moderna.

Mumbai-based pharma major Cipla has been allowed to import Moderna's Covid vaccine for restricted emergency use in India, where the vaccines used so far were Bharat Biotech's Covaxin and Serum Institute of India's Covishield. Russia's Sputnik was also cleared recently.

Details of a rollout plan are not out yet. It is not clear how many doses will be available in India and when. Sources say for now, Cipla is only looking at receiving donated vaccines; commercial agreements are still being processed.

"Cipla Limited is supporting Moderna Inc with the regulatory approval and importation of vaccines to be donated to India. At this stage, there is no definitive agreement on commercial supplies," Cipla said in a statement.

Out of all four, Moderna has the highest effectiveness - it is 94 per cent effective compared to Sputnik (91 per cent), Covaxin (77.8 per cent) and Covishield (74 per cent).

"I am pleased to inform that application received from Moderna through their Indian partner Cipla has been granted. This opens up the possibility of the vaccine being imported in the near future. Other formalities to follow. But important that licensure has been given," said VK Paul, who heads the Covid task force.

Dr Paul said only regulatory clearance had been given to Moderna for now.

Both Pfizer and Moderna have asked for an important concession - they want indemnity from liability in case of any adverse effect of the vaccine. India has, so far, not granted indemnity to any vaccine-maker.

Dr Paul said the government had "multiple sessions" with Pfizer and the company has to make the next move.

"We are going through talks. There has been an exchange of information and inputs. There has been a back-and-forth on that. Intensive meetings were held last week. We are awaiting feedback from Pfizer," he told reporters.

Recently, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla had said that the company's vaccine may soon be available in India as the process of its approval is in the "final stages".

"Pfizer is now in the final stages to get approval for COVID-19 vaccine in India. I hope very soon we will finalise an agreement with the government," Mr Bourla had said.

Like Pfizer, Moderna is an mRNA vaccine that has fragments of the genetic material known as messenger RNA.

The vaccine works by giving cells temporary instructions to make the coronavirus spike protein. The protein is found on the surface of the COVID-19 virus.

Cipla received clearance to import Moderna vaccines within 24 hours of its application, due to the government's revised policy on accelerated approvals for foreign vaccines. It had taken Sputnik two months for the same approval.

Cipla, in its application to the drug regulator, had referred to the government's decision to waive bridging trials for foreign vaccines if it is cleared for emergency use in countries like the US and if the safety assessment data of the first 100 beneficiaries is submitted before mass rollout.


Moderna Approved For Emergency Use, 4th Vaccine Okayed By India

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