India's Bharat Biotech ramps up vaccine production, 'black fungus' cases add to COVID-19 woes

BENGALURU, May 20 (Reuters) - India's Bharat Biotech on Thursday said it would ramp up production of COVID-19 vaccine by 200 million doses per year by the fourth quarter, as the country faces a severe vaccine shortage in a ruthless second wave of the pandemic.

India has managed to fully inoculate only about 3% of its 1.3 billion population so far, despite being the world's largest vaccine producer.

The additional doses of Bharat Biotech's Covaxin shot will be produced at its plant in the western state of Gujarat, and bring the drugmaker's total production to one billion doses per year, the company said. read more

AstraZeneca's (AZN.L) vaccine, produced by the country's Serum Institute, and Russia's Sputnik V are the other two shots available in the country.

India reported 276,110 new coronavirus infections over the previous 24 hours, slightly higher than a day earlier but well below the 400,000 high seen at the beginning of this month in a devastating second wave.

This takes the total number of infections during the pandemic to 25.77 million, the world's second highest after the United States, with rising cases of mucormycosis, a fungal disease, further complicating treatment.

Also called "black fungus", it presents a new challenge for COVID-19 patients on steroid therapy and those with pre-existing diabetes, causing blackening or discolouration over the nose, blurred or double vision, chest pain, breathing difficulties and coughing blood.

Doctors believe the use of steroids to treat severe COVID-19 could be causing the condition. The country's health ministry on Thursday asked state governments to declare it as a "notifiable disease" under the Epidemics Act, meaning they have to identify and track every case. read more

The daily rise in deaths was below the 4,000 mark for the first time since Sunday, while daily coronavirus testing in India touched nearly 2.05 million on Wednesday, a record after first crossing the 2 million mark on Tuesday.

State-run Indian Council Of Medical Research on Wednesday approved home testing for COVID-19, using rapid antigen tests manufactured by Mylab Discovery Solutions.

The home tests are advised only for symptomatic cases and immediate contacts of laboratory-confirmed positive cases.

Reporting by Rama Venkat in Bengaluru; Editing by Himani Sarkar

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