Wednesday, April 21, 2021

India backs AstraZeneca vaccine as Covid-19 cases soar again

The new surge has been led by the western state of Maharashtra, home to India’s commercial capital of Mumbai.

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Indian authorities said on Wednesday they have confidence in the AstraZeneca vaccine and will be continuing to use it with “full rigour” in their inoculation campaign.

This comes despite some concerns in Europe about the safety of that particular vaccine, leading several countries to suspend using it.

The European Medicines Agency is currently investigating reports of 30 cases of blood clots out of five million recipients of the vaccine in the region.

India relies heavily upon the locally manufactured AstraZeneca vaccine and will be increasing its use as infections in the country are hitting a three-month high, Reuters is reporting.

Since starting its vaccination drive in mid-January, India has administered 36 million doses, mostly of the AstraZeneca vaccine developed with Oxford University and locally known as Covishield.

Vinod Kumar Paul, who heads a government committee on vaccines, told a news conference that experts in India have looked into the issue of reported blood clots.

“We have no signal of concern in this regard,” he told reporters. “Covishield vaccination in the country will go on with full rigour.”

The World Health Organization has said it is assessing whether medical events such as blood clots are related to the vaccination and are meanwhile urging anyone offered a vaccine to take one.

AstraZeneca has said a review of safety data has shown no evidence of an increased risk of blood clots.

Paul said as infections have risen in India since early February, hitting a three-month high on Wednesday, the government is looking at accelerating the vaccination drive that also uses a homegrown shot created by Bharat Biotech and the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research.

The federal health ministry has so far distributed to states 75.4 million vaccine doses, less than half of which have been given to frontline workers, the elderly and people above 45 with health conditions.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said quick action was needed to contain the new surge, as the country’s infections tally hit 11.44 million, the third behind the US and Brazil.

“We need to soon stop the emerging second peak of corona,” he said in a virtual meeting with state leaders, urging them to increase testing and strictly monitor mask-wearing. “We need to take quick, decisive steps.”

India’s cases jumped by 28,903 on Wednesday, the highest increase since Dec 13. Deaths increased by 188, the highest in two months, to stand at 159,044.

Modi said states needed to proactively ensure infections did not increase in the countryside, where healthcare facilities often fall short. Rural India is home to two-thirds of the country’s 1.35 billion people.

The federal government has blamed crowding and a reluctance to wear masks for the spike, ruling out the virus mutations that have been a factor in Western countries.

The recent increase has been led by the western state of Maharashtra, home to India’s commercial capital of Mumbai.

Nearly 62% of infections in the past 24 hours and 46% of the deaths were reported by Maharashtra, which has ordered a lockdown in some districts and put curbs on cinemas, hotels and restaurants until end of the month.

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