India’s largest vaccine maker Serum Institute of India has sought emergency use approval from South African drug regulator for its COVID-19 vaccine.

Covovax is a licensed version of the Novavax vaccine and is being mass-manufactured in India. Health experts there are calling it a promising booster, as Ishan Garg reports from New Delhi.

Novavax, which developed the Covovax vaccine, says it has shown promising results in clinical trials. But, Indian experts warn that it may not be effective against the Omicron variant.

The head of India’s genome sequencing task force Dr Anurag Agarwal says the vaccine is based on the ancestral Coronavirus spike protein.

It’s an older method of making vaccines – as compared to the newer technologies such as mRNA. Data showed the vaccine was only 51 percent effective against the Beta variant. But, experts say it could still be used as an effective booster dose.

India approved the vaccine for emergency use two weeks ago and said it was perfectly safe. Health experts believe that its nano-particle protein platform is ideal for scaling up production.

Serum Institute of India, which is bulk manufacturing the vaccine, says the vaccine will be crucial for lower and middle-income nations fighting the pandemic.

With Covovax, the company is hoping to make a push once again into the South African market. Last year, many doses of the Serum Institute-made, Astrazeneca vaccine, were left unused after concerns over its efficacy. It’s been widely used in India, but South Africa has since relied on Johnson and Johnson and Pfizer jabs instead.

As domestic demand is plateauing, analysts say companies like Serum Institute are now better placed to export jabs again.

But, some worry that if Omicron leads to more hospitalisations in the country, authorities may use these vaccines for the domestic population.

Especially as a third of the country — isn’t fully vaccinated and the third wave is yet to peak.