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India's Bharat Biotech aims to make 700 mln doses of COVID-19 vaccine in 2021

BENGALURU, Jan 4 (Reuters) - India’s Bharat Biotech is aiming to have a production capacity of about 700 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine this year, according to a top executive of the biotechnology company.

The vaccine candidate, COVAXIN, received emergency use approval from India’s drugs regulator on Sunday, a move that faced questions from industry experts and opposition lawmakers due to lack of efficacy data.

Efficacy data from the company’s ongoing late-stage trial should be available by March, Krishna Ella, chairman and managing director of Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech, said in an online address to the media on Monday.

“We have four facilities coming up and we are planning (to make) around 200 million doses in Hyderabad, 500 million doses in other cities,” Ella said. The company has 20 million doses available so far, he added.

The approval for COVAXIN, jointly developed with a government institute, was hailed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ministers as a success in India’s self-reliance push.

Ella defended the approval, citing multiple examples of emergency authorisation approvals given in the past based only on immunogenicity data, and said he believes in COVAXIN’s efficacy.

Health Minister Harsh Vardhan clarified on Twitter on Sunday that the emergency use approval for COVAXIN was “in clinical trial mode”, wherein all recipients of the vaccine would be tracked and monitored as if they are in trial.

India has the second-highest number of coronavirus infections in the world, though cases have been steadily falling since a peak in September. (Reporting by Anuron Kumar Mitra in Bengaluru; Editing by Maju Samuel)

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