The approval, given to a licensed version of the drug made by the Serum Institute of India (SII) and exported to dozens of countries, could help health authorities minimise vaccine wastage and better plan their inoculation programmes. The breakthrough is according to a document reviewed by Reuters and a source.
Some African countries have only until the middle of next month to use up more than a million doses of the vaccine – branded Covishield by SII – if the shelf life is not extended.
India’s drugs controller-general, V.G. Somani, wrote late last month in reply to a request from the SII: “You are permitted to apply the shelf-life of 9 month to unlabelled vials available on hand.”
AstraZeneca said in a statement last week that its product could be stored, transported and handled at normal refrigerated conditions for at least six months. The World Health Organization website also gives the shelf-life of Covishield and the South Korean-made AstraZeneca shot as six months.
Reuters has reviewed Somani’s approval, which has been communicated to some African countries, but could not determine if his recommendation applied to unused vials. Each vial typically contains 5 millilitre of vaccine, or 10 doses.
The source, with direct knowledge of the matter but not authorised to discuss it publicly, said the approval was given based on data submitted by the SII. The source did not specify what kind of data was shared by the company, the world’s biggest vaccine maker.
Somani, the SII and AstraZeneca did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
India has so far administered 55 million Covishield doses at home and exported nearly 64 million. India is also using another vaccine developed domestically by Bharat Biotech.
It comes as Berlin’s hospital groups Charité and Vivantes have stopped administering the AstraZeneca jab to women under the age of 55, according the German daily Tagesspiegel.
Tagesspiegel said two thirds of staff at Charité had received the vaccine so far, of which 70 percent have received a single dose of the AstraZeneca jab.
Doctors and nurses at the Vivantes and Charité clinic received doses of the Biontech jab from the beginning of the year.
Only in recent weeks have staff working on other wards – most of which don’t work directly with patients -been vaccinated with AstraZeneca.