NEW DELHI - India has approved Russia's Sputnik V vaccine for emergency use against COVID-19 as the country battles a devastating second wave of the pandemic.
The move will give India access to a third vaccine at a time when its race to ramp up its immunization drive is being hampered by shortages being reported from several parts of the country.
India's health ministry also said Tuesday it will fast-track approval for other shots that have been given an emergency nod by the World Health Organization or regulators in the United States, Europe, Britain and Japan to "expand the basket of vaccines for domestic use and hasten the pace and coverage of vaccination."
That could pave the way for possible imports of vaccines such as ones produced by Pfizer and Moderna, health experts said.
The first doses of the Russian vaccine, which has shown as efficacy of 91.6 percent in studies and has been approved by about 60 countries, could arrive by the end of the month or early May.
India has surpassed Brazil to become the world's second worst hit nation as infections have soared to record highs in the past week, lending urgency to the need to scale up vaccinations that have reached less than ten percent of its vast population. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Although India is the world's largest vaccine producer, its manufacturers are struggling both to meet the massive domestic demand and their international commitments. The country was to be a major supplier to other developing countries but has put exports on a temporary hold.
India has inoculated about 105 million people so far using the AstraZeneca vaccine which is being manufactured locally, and a domestically developed shot called Covaxin. But administering jabs to 1.4 billion people poses a huge challenge.
In the past week, some local governments have said their stocks are dwindling although the federal government says it has an adequate amount.
Meanwhile, calls are growing both from health experts and authorities in the country's worst hit areas to make vaccinations more widely available to counter the second wave that has become more lethal than the first.
The country's inoculation drive, billed as the world's largest, began in mid-January. After vaccinating health care workers and senior citizens, India expanded the jabs to those above the age of 45 year this month.
But the government says vaccinations will not yet be extended to wider groups because of a "limited supply."
"We need to step up in a very aggressive manner our vaccination," according to Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India. "The more people we can vaccinate across all age groups, the greater the chance of reducing the transmission of the virus."
India reported than 161,736 new cases on Tuesday, the seventh day in a row that more than 100,000 infections have been recorded.
Health experts say a massive decline in cases earlier this year led to complacency both among the public and policy makers leading many to abandon COVID-19 protocols.
They are also pointing the finger at super spreader events such as a Hindu religious festival that is billed as the largest religious pilgrimage on Earth. At the event, tens of thousands congregate daily in the northern city of Haridwar to take a dip in the Ganges river.
Reports of a shortage of hospital beds have come from the most impacted areas as cases rise -- daily new infections have surpassed the numbers reported during the first wave.
Five Indian companies will make 850 million doses a year of the Russian vaccine. "We believe by June, we will really be at good production capacity in India and will become a very meaningful player in vaccination program in India," according to a statement by the Russian Direct Investment Fund.