Vaccine hopes brighten

It is still a long way to go before the efficacy and safety of the Oxford vaccine is established for public use

AuthorPublished: 22nd Jul 2020  12:00 amUpdated: 21st Jul 2020  7:58 pm

The encouraging results from human trials of coronavirus vaccine, developed by the Oxford University and other research groups in the United States and China, brighten the hopes of finding a solution to the pandemic. However, it is still a long way to go before the efficacy and safety of the vaccine is established for public use. India, which is a global hub for manufacturing vaccines and drugs, has also joined the race with human trials being initiated on two indigenously developed vaccine candidates. The initial findings of the randomised trials, involving 1,077 people, showed that the Oxford vaccine has produced antibodies and T-cells, a type of white blood cells that coordinate the immune system. Also, there were no major side-effects, according to the findings published in the medical journal ‘The Lancet’. While this is hugely promising, the key question remains whether the vaccine, licensed to multinational pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, can prevent people from becoming ill or even lessen their symptoms of Covid-19. It is not clear whether the level of antibodies and T-cells produced was enough to prevent the disease. Phase III trials, involving a large sample across multiple countries, will help establish the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, developed by researchers using a genetically engineered virus that causes the common cold in chimpanzees. The World Health Organization (WHO) has described the Oxford vaccine as the leading candidate in the global fight to halt the pandemic.

Along with the Oxford vaccine, two more research groups in the US and China reported similar encouraging results after initial trials while Russia has also announced that it has completed the second phase of trials. In India, Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII), in collaboration with AstraZeneca and Oxford University; Bharat Biotech in consortia with National Institute of Virology (NIV) and Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR); Indian Immunologicals Ltd with an Australian University are leading the race. A big advantage for India is that SII is the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines. It has several WHO qualified makers of vaccines and the capability to both mass produce and bring down the vaccine costs. Be it a vaccine or drugs, the country promises to be at the centre of the action and a global player against the pandemic. The reasons are not far to seek: it has USFDA-approved manufacturing facilities, a solid track record in producing generic versions and a mechanism for affordable pricing for drugs when required. To safeguard the geopolitical interests in the global vaccine market, India needs to up its game and create an ecosystem where it can play a bigger role both in R&D and manufacturing of vaccines.

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