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Coronavirus: India approves two COVID vaccines for emergency use

The Indian drug regulator has formally approved two coronavirus shots just hours after health workers across the country began a trial run of the country's huge vaccination program.

Health workers taking part in a vaccination trial run in India

Tens of thousands of health workers have been trained to administer the vaccine jab

India carried out a practice drill on Saturday ahead of the launch of one of the world's largest vaccination programs.

The dry-run came a day before the country's Drugs Control Authority formally approved urgent-use authorization for the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine.

The locally developed vaccine COVAXIN produced by Bharat Biotech was also approved for emergency use at a news conference Sunday.

Reuters reported that the first doses were set to be administered in the coming week.

Drugs Controller General Dr. Venugopal G Somani said that both vaccines will be administered in two dosages.

India becomes the third country to approve the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine after the UK and Argentina granted emergency approval earlier this week.

Building expertise

Saturday's rehearsal saw 25 health workers at each vaccine center across the country given a dummy jab.

Health Minister Harsh Vardhan explained the reasoning behind the trial saying that it would build expertise "so that the upcoming vaccination drive may proceed without any glitch."

Some 96,000 health workers have been trained as part of the campaign.

A suitable vaccine for developing nations

The Serum Institute, the world's largest vaccine manufacturing company, has already stockpiled tens of millions of doses of the AstraZeneca Covishield vaccine.

The two companies have an agreement to produce one billion doses which will be made available to developing countries, including India.

The Covishield vaccine does not require ultra-cold storage like the BioNTech-Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, and thus is a feasible option for many developing nations with only access to regular refrigeration storage.

The drug regulator is also reviewing a vaccine application from BioNTech-Pfizer.

Campaign against 'misleading rumors'

The government plans to vaccinate 300 million people in its first phase of the inoculation drive, including healthcare and front-line workers, police, military and people with comorbidities over 50.

India's frontline workers eager to get vaccinated

The health minister urged people to reject anti-vaccine rumors and told reporters during a visit to a government hospital in New Delhi: "We will not compromise on any protocol before approving a vaccine."

India has the second-highest caseload in the world, after the US, with 10.2 million infections recorded since the beginning of the pandemic — although new daily cases have come down from a peak of over 90,000 in September, and COVID-19 deaths are lower than in other badly affected countries.

ab, jsi/mm (Reuters, AP, AFP)