India on Friday approved Bharat Biotech’s intra-nasal Covid 19 vaccine for inclusion in the ongoing vaccination program as a booster shot, even as the country decided to step up its emergency response mechanism in case of a rise in infections. 

Mock drills have been ordered across hospitals and they will begin Tuesday onwards, officials of the Union Health Ministry said. 

The emergency response comes in the backdrop of rising Covid cases in China - the BF.7 variant of Omicron - and other parts like Japan, Korea, France, the USA and Brazil. 

Intranasal Vax 

According to a senior health ministry official, the inclusion of  Bharat Biotech’s intranasal vaccine (iNCOVACC or BBV154) in the vaccination programme will be as a booster dose for those above 18 years of age. It will be included in the Cowin app Friday evening onwards. 

The vaccine will also be available at private centres. 

The needle free vaccine received approval from the Drugs Controller General of India in November for restricted use in an emergency for those above 18 as a heterologous booster dose.

This will be India’s first such needleless jab. 

Vaccines listed on the Cowin platform include Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, Serum Institute’s Covishield and Covovax, Russia’s Sputnik V and Biological E’a Corbevax. 

Emergency Response 

The mock drills would check preparedness of the health system, bed availability and readiness of other health care supports systems. 

Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya will also oversee and participate in these drills. 

States have been asked to carry out similar drills at government-run hospitals too. 

PM Narendra Modi who chaired a high level review meet yesterday has asked states and senior officials to check on availability of key medicines/essential drugs and monitor their price movements, oxygen availability and so on. 

Meanwhile, Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya will meet with health ministers of states and Union Territories over rising Covid cases in some parts of the world. The meeting will be held via video conferencing at 3 pm today.

Guidelines for international arrivals

The Centre has also issued guidelines for international arrivals, to come into force from tomorrow. All travellers should preferably be fully vaccinated as per the approved primary schedule of vaccination in their country, it said. Use of masks, and social distancing, will be required in flight and at entry and exit points of airports. Passengers with symptoms will be isolated and segregated from other passengers and shifted to an isolation facility for follow-up treatment.

Some 2 per cent odd international passengers will also be randomly tested, December 24 onwards.