COVID … Race against time to find vaccine for Coronavirus

ANALYSIS COVID VACCINE INDIA WORLD

KS Shankar

KS Shankar/IHN-NN

NEW DELHI: As the Corona-seized year inches forward to a close in less than three months, expectations are steadily rising for the advent of a vaccine that can apply the brake on the pandemic’s spread and help the harried people across continents have a huge sigh of relief. Expectations are that one or the other vaccine will get regulatory approval in India sometime between the beginning and middle of year 2021.  

From there, it would be a few more months before the vaccine reaches the people through normal production and distribution process. Meaning, it would be about a year more from now for us to have access to the vaccine, as per a conservative estimate.  However, the US has said it would begin delivery of a vaccine by this coming January. 

While several vaccines are at various stages of trials, these processes are mainly led by the US, Russia, India, China and Israel. Over 180 vaccine candidates (those who have made initial progress in the development of vaccine), some one-fifth of these have entered clinical trials, and about 10 have entered the final stages of human trials.  

Normally, so far, it used to take several years before a vaccine is finally developed for such virus attacks. As economies around the world got stuck this time, there is a special urgency for a vaccine; and this requires that several regulatory steps are sidestepped in the process of development of the vaccine, but without compromising on safety matters.  

ORIGIN AND SPREAD OF VIRUS

Covid-19 had its origin in China towards the end of year 2019. A secrecy about it resulted in the spread of the virus far and wide, across continents, in a few months’ time. By then, it was unstoppable.  

Remaining hidden in animal hosts for decades, viruses mutate steadily, sometimes serendipitously, morphing into more effective and efficient infectious agents. When a strain with just the right combination of genetic codes that spell trouble for people makes the leap from animal to humans, the ambush begins.  

Such was also the case with Chinese-inspired SARS-Cov-2, the coronavirus behind Covid-19 that killed less than a thousand in Asia and beyond in year 2002. The attack was mostly silent and insidious at first. Many people infected with SARS-CoV-2 remained oblivious as they served as the virus’s new home and allowed it to establish a foothold in the global human population. It circulated for a few months and then died down on its own.  

It took 20 months before a vaccine against severe acute respiratory syndrome, SARS, was ready for clinical trials

HOW IT WORKS

It was Edward Jenner who developed the first vaccine in the 18th Century against smallpox. From then on, over time, vaccines have worked the same way. Patients get an inoculation containing a weakened or killed germ or some of its key proteins. The body’s immune system reacts to it, and the next time the germ shows up, the body can recognize and neutralize it, researchers were quoted in a report as saying. However, new technologies have come in, and new approaches too. 

In recent years, scientists have attempted a different approach. Rather than injecting part of the germ itself, experimental vaccines deliver the genetic blueprints for germ parts and let the patient’s own body manufacture them, the researchers said.

INDIAN EFFORTS


India’s Covaxin, which entered the race in July, is a promising candidate, and this is currently in phase II of testing. If all goes well and the vaccine delivers sufficient immunity, we might see early doses available for the general masses by mid-2021, according to ICMR and chief investigating officers involved in the trials.  

At least seven Indian pharma companies are working to develop a vaccine against coronavirus.Bharat Biotech, Serum Institute, Zydus CadilaPanacea BiotecIndian ImmunologicalsMynvax and Biological E are among the domestic pharma firms working on the coronavirus vaccines. Reasearchers are however worried that even with India’s experience as a leading vaccine manufacturer, its companies will struggle to produce enough doses sufficiently fast to bring its own huge outbreak under control. On top of that, it will be an immense logistical challenge to distribute the doses to people in rural and remote regions.

Indian drug companies are major manufacturers of vaccines distributed worldwide, particularly those for low-income countries, supplying more than 60 per cent of vaccines supplied to the developing world. Because of this, they are likely to gain early access to any Covid-19 vaccine that works, says Sahil Deo, co-founder of India’s CPC Analytics in Pune.  

As per reports, three vaccines are in trial in India and regulatory approvals are being sought for a fourth one. But the first two that are likely to come through are the Oxford University-AstraZeneca-Serum Institute vaccine (ChAd noV-19) and the Sputnik-V developed by Russia.

Assuming that the new vaccines clear the clinical trials with flying colours, the first hurdle before the government will be to fix a price for the buyer. Last month, Serum Institute of India’s chief executive officer Adar Poonawalla sought to know whether the government has Rs80,000 crore in its kitty to pay for the vaccination of all Indians. Back-of-the-envelope calculations show that for a population of 138 crore, this roughly translates to Rs290 for one dose and Rs 580 for a two-dose regimen.

Covid-19 has hit India hard in recent months. This is not the first time our country has tackled an infectious disease. It was nine years since India saw its last case of polio, and it was a combination of government leadership, millions of health workers trained to identify and isolate cases, continuous innovation in the delivery systems – including new ways to record child vaccination and electronic registries – and a safe and effective vaccine that led to its elimination.

GLOBAL PUSH

India has been in the forefront of bringing the world together. Along with now 167 countries, it has joined the COVAX Facility, which has the biggest and most diverse Covid-19 vaccine portfolio in the world.  The facility set up by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the World Health Organization (WHO), is designed to ensure that as new vaccines are discovered, they are shared effectively around the world. This ensures that those who are most at risk – including health care workers and the vulnerable – are protected first. –IHN-NN

INDIA HERE AND NOW 

www.indiahereandnow.com email:indianow999@gmail.com

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