Supply of anti-rabies vaccine in India got a shot in the arm on Wednesday as one of its largest manufacturers in India, Chiron Behring Vaccines, has re-launched the immunization shot under a new brand -- ChiroRab.

The vaccine will be manufactured at Chiron Behring's facility at Ankleshwar in Gujarat. Bharat Biotech International had acquired Chiron Behring Vaccines from GlaxoSmithKline Asia in March, and restarted the plant in May.

Earlier, when GSK owned Chiron Behring, the anti-rabies vaccine was sold under the brand 'Rabipur' and commanded a lion’s share of the market, especially in the private market. ‘ChiroRab’ will be manufactured using the same technology at the same site.

The relaunch offers respite to millions of victims of animal bites, especially those suffering from dog bites. India has been facing an acute shortage of anti-rabies vaccines over the last few months primarily due to shutdown of the Chiron Behring plant in Ankaleshwar for nearly two years prior to that.

The current capacity of the Chiron Behring plant is around 12 million vaccines per annum, and the company plans to expand it to 15 million in a few months, Bharat Biotech chairman and managing director Krishna Ella said.

Bharat Biotech also manufactures around 15 million anti-rabies vaccines annually, which it sells under the brand ‘IndiRab’ through government tenders. Bharat Biotech has no plans to expand its own plants, Ella said.

To resolve the shortage of anti-rabies vaccine on an immediate basis, Chiron Behring has released 325,000 dosages of the vaccine, and has also made submissions to the government of releasing another 875,000 doses of its vaccine from testing, Chiron Behring chief operating officer and site director Pradip Patel said.

“We plan to increase the capacity of the plant to 21 million dosages annually by 2021," Patel said.

Patel, though, said Chiron Behring will export around 40% of their products to other countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

It will also be made available in government hospitals through tenders as well as the private market, the company said in a release.

Many hospitals across the country have been in the grip of a severe shortage of anti-rabies vaccine over the last few months. The situation has been dire for most hospitals, be it Delhi’s central-government run Safdarjung Hospital or state or private ones.

Apart from the shutdown at Chiron Behring’s plant, the shortage was exacerbated by closure of various vaccine manufacturers in China by the country’s government last year, while some industry experts even cited price control as a structural flaw which made the vaccine market unattractive for major investment.

Both ‘ChiroRab ‘ and ‘IndiRab’ are priced at 351 per dose, company officials said.

The situation was so dire that at one point the Centre considered banning export of the vaccines in India. However, the government decided against it later when Bharat Biotech’s subsidiary Chiron Behring started production.

Apart from Chiron Behring, Indian Immunologicals is also working on increasing capacity at current plants and a new plant should also start production by December 2020. Indian Immunologicals is a major supplier in government tenders.

“The relaunch of Chiron Behring’s vaccine may help resolve immediate shortage of anti-rabies vaccine in India as shutdown of their plant was one of the major factors for the problem. Even the supply of 3 lakh dosages immediately would fill the gap and give some relief from this shortage," Omesh Kumar Bharti, an epidemiologist at Himachal Pradesh Health Department, said.

Rabies is a major public health problem in India, endemic throughout the country with the exception of Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep Islands, and kills an estimated 20,000 people annually, according to the National Health Portal.

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