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COVID-19 Vaccine: What can India Fall Back on?

The two vaccine candidates which have claimed success rates of above 90% may well be out of reach for the country.
COVID-19 Vaccine: What can India Fall Back on?

Image Courtesy: Reuters

On Tuesday, November 17, Dr. V.K. Paul, the head of the National Task Force for COVID-19, remarked that the Pfizer vaccine was not going to reach India any time soon. He also said that the big challenges of storage and distribution of the vaccine, which needs to be stored at a temperature of around -70 degrees Celsius, are being reviewed with its procurement dependent on their assessment. The same is the case for the Moderna Inc.’s vaccine, which also needs to be stored at -20 degrees Celsius.

It is true that these vaccines, which claim to have shown above 90% efficacy, are not going to be the best options for India. There are not only issues around cold storage and its distribution, but also about the cost of these vaccines. Hence, it is likely that these vaccines will not reach India very soon.

Nevertheless, there are other vaccine candidates being developed in the country. India’s indigenous vaccine candidate, developed by Bharat Biotech, has already entered the phase III of the clinical trials. According to Bharat Biotech, phase III will require the recruitment of 26,000 volunteers and will be conducted across India in partnership with ICMR.

However, Bharat Biotech’s production capacity is limited, according to Dr. Krishna Ella, chairman and managing director of the company. The company has reportedly said that it is trying to fortify the supply of the vaccine by developing nasal drops. The country, however, will have to wait for the results of the trials in order to assess the efficacy and availability of the vaccine.

It is to be noted that any vaccine candidate will require a relatively lower temperature for storage.

The other vaccine being developed is the Oxford and AstraZeneca candidate. The Serum Institute of India (SII) is developing the vaccine, which is in phase II/III of clinical trials. The SII has said that it intends to produce 100 million doses by December. However, the vaccine will be available only after trial results are proven to be successful worldwide, not just in India.

The Russian candidate – Sputnik V – developed by Gamaleya National Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Russia, will also be tested in India. This candidate will undergo phase II/III trials in India.

This decision came after the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) gave approval to Dr. Reddy’s to conduct trials. The first batch of the vaccine will be tested at Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi Medical College, Kanpur.

Another vaccine that has entered clinical trials is the one being developed by the US-based Baylor College of Medicine. This candidate will be tried in India by Biological E Ltd., a Hyderabad-based vaccine manufacturer, for phase I and II of clinical trials. The results of the initial trials are expected to be available by February next year.

The infrastructure requirement for vaccine candidates has to be factored in, alongside the cost. According to Dr. N.K. Ganguly, the former DG of ICMR, the vaccine candidates are “unaffordable” at the moment but India may be able to strike a deal since it will require a large volume of vaccines.

The other crucial issue that Dr. Ganguly raised was that of adult vaccination in the country. Though antenatal vaccinations have been conducted in quite an encouraging manner, the country has not experienced anything in the realm of adult vaccination. It has to be noted that adults, especially the elderly, are one of the most vulnerable groups to COVID-19. Hence, India will need a comprehensive plan to meet the challenge.

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