BENGALURU – India has approved Merck’s COVID-19 pill and two other vaccines for emergency use as the world’s second most populous country ahead of a possible peak in coronavirus cases due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.
Asia’s third-largest economy has already said it will allow COVID-19 booster shots for part of its population, as some Indian states have seen a slight increase in Omicron cases.
The emergency approvals come at a time when steps are being taken to increase the oxygen supply and strengthen the country’s health infrastructure.
Molnupiravir will be manufactured in India by 13 companies for restricted emergency use for the treatment of adult patients with COVID-19, the country’s Minister of Health Mansukh Mandaviya said on Tuesday.
Merck’s molnupiravir antiviral pill was approved by the United States last week for some high-risk adult patients and has been shown to reduce hospitalizations and deaths by about 30% in a clinical trial.
Earlier this year, Aurobindo Pharma, Cipla, Sun Pharmaceuticals and a few others signed non-exclusive voluntary license agreements with Merck to manufacture and supply molnupiravir in India.
Two other COVID-19 vaccines, the Serum Institute of India’s version of the vaccine from Novavax Inc, Covovax, and local drug maker Biological E’s Corbevax have also received emergency use clearance, Mandaviya said on Twitter.
Medical experts have said India needs to double its vaccination campaign and some states have imposed nighttime curfews and other restrictions ahead of the New Years festivities to avoid a spike in infections and a repeat of the summer of 2021 during a second devastating wave of infections that kills tens of thousands.
So far, the country’s inoculation campaign has been dominated by a country-produced version of AstraZeneca COVID-19 injected by the Serum Institute and the inactivated Covaxin vaccine from Bharat Biotech.
India has so far administered 1.43 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and 62% of its eligible population has received both doses. The country plans to start vaccinating 15-18 year olds from January 3.
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