Health experts and vaccine manufacturers are confident that the first batch of vaccines against the coronavirus would be available in the market by the end of 2021. Participating in a discussion on ‘The Vaccine Race: Balancing Science and Urgency’ moderated by Industries Minister KT Rama Rao at Genome Valley here on Tuesday, World Health Organization chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan, through video conference, said Covid-19 had established itself and hence a comprehensive package should be put in place to increase the testing and ensure the necessary healthcare infrastructure. Noting that the lockdown was a temporary measure to contain the spread of the coronavirus, she said India had a low testing rate compared with countries like Germany, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and even the USA that were successfully trying to curb it.
The WHO scientist said about 28 vaccine probable’s for Covid-19 were under clinical trials, of which five were entering Phase-II. Over 150 candidates were in pre-clinical trials across the globe. She said the WHO had issued guidelines on vaccine trials and if the efficacy rate of the vaccine is 70 per cent, then it is a good one. She cautioned that the virus had spread to every country in the world and established community transmission.
Soumya Swaminathan said that that scientists were still studying the body’s immune response to the coronavirus and the next 12 months would be crucial to put in place the public health and social measures. She emphasised the need for the 194 member countries of the WHO to come together and devise a strategy for the equitable and fair distribution of the vaccine. She said efforts were being made to deliver two billion doses of safe, effective vaccines by 2021-end that had passed regulatory approval and/or WHO prequalification.
Bharat Biotech chairman and managing director Krishna Ella said the Centre should decetralise some of the regulating authorities such as the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) for faster approvals. He pointed out that 70 per cent of vaccines made in India were from Hyderabad and found fault with the Centre for looking at the pandemic only from the health point of view. He said it had also devastated the economy and that people face starvation challenges too.
He said though the companies were competing against each other in terms of market, they were also working with a common goal in their fight against the disease. He assured that while expediting the process, companies were not short-circuiting in terms of science and effectiveness of the vaccine. “Our vaccine, Covaxin, will be supplied at a cost less than that of a water bottle. There has been considerable progress in the vaccine development and the quality of it will be uniform for the entire world,” he added.
Biological E managing director Mahima Datla said her company would produce 80 to 100 million doses per month soon after it becomes available. She stated that though there would be a trade-off in terms of the protection duration for the vaccine, it would not be at the cost of safety. She said funding for the vaccine development was extremely fragmented and urged the government to address the issue as it would have a long-term impact on the vaccine development in India.
At last, Mahima Datla explained that there was a principle understanding between the vaccine manufacturers in India to deploy capacities for each other not just in the context of Covid-19 but also in terms of producing routine vaccine supplies. “However, we will need necessary clearances, including various phases of trials, which need the government support,” she said, urging the government to optimise approval mechanism for routine vaccines already under production.
Indian Immunologicals Limited managing director Anand Kumar offered his company’s surplus facility to enable more production of the Covid-19 vaccine. He said all the organisations working for the development of a Covid-19 vaccine in India should collaborate to ensure its timely development. He also emphasised the need to make the vaccine affordable as it should be administered to children and the elderly alike.
He felt that Telangana, especially Hyderabad, had a better eco-system than other locations in the country as it had best research and development as well as manufacturing facilities at one place. He stated that Indian Immunologicals had taken a different approach using live-attenuated vaccine technology for the Covid-19 vaccine development where one or two doses would be sufficient for entire life and would be affordable as well. “We will commence phase-1 trials in January 2021. Our technology will take time to produce vaccine but can be cost-effective,” he said.