The COVID 19 virus has the world in turmoil. It has managed to significantly diminish the human and economic resources of countries. Each day witnesses a new rise in cases and number of deaths. Everybody is eagerly waiting for life to go back to normal. But, the end of this pandemic looks quite uncertain. Just out of curiosity, how do you think this will end? When will we have a vaccine?
One solution can be achieving herd immunity. Herd immunity is if 70-90% of the population faces exposure to the virus. Then, recovers from the disease to develop antibodies against future infection. This would break the chain of transmission. It would provide indirect protection to those who are not immune to the virus. However, with a fatality rate of 0.5-1%, achieving herd immunity would entail a high human cost. Also, the immunity from after recovering from the virus is not permanent. Meaning that in a few months after recovery, you’ll again be at risk of getting the infection. This makes herd immunity an impractical and far fetched approach.
This is why, as acknowledged by WHO, CDC, and MoHFW, a vaccine is the only answer to triumph over COVID-19.
In layman’s terms, vaccines are medicines that prevent a particular disease. It is important to know that it is not a curative measure. It is a preventive measure. The concept is to stimulate an antibody memory response without producing illness. Thus, it mimics the virus it protects against, causing a fight-back response from the immune system. This way, when the actual virus enters the body, the antibodies are ready to tackle it. But is there a vaccine for every disease? There’s no guarantee.
For example, a vaccine against the Ebola virus came up after five years. Whereas the vaccine against AIDS, still does not exist. However, due to the urgency of the situation, the vaccine against COVID19 is developing at a much faster rate. Faster than any other vaccines. The entire world has invested all of its time and resources into this. Into developing a safe and effective vaccine for this pandemic.
Vaccine development rates
The development of a vaccine is a long and stringent process. The vaccine passes through a number of layered trials before getting approved for general use. The risks associated with an unsafe vaccine are high. Therefore, it is dangerous to haste the development procedure by compromising the efficacy of the product. Such strict measures are imperative to ensure no side effects in a vaccine. As the side effects of an unsafe vaccine can potentially be more dangerous. More dangerous than the disease it is supposed to protect against. Currently, more than 170 teams of researchers are racing to develop a safe and effective vaccine. Despite the cumulative efforts, a cloud of uncertainty floats over the future of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The below table will give you a brief understanding. It explains the various stages of vaccine development. The chart also gives a quick update on the number of candidates at each stage:
A vaccine clears the benchmarking process and receives approval from the respective authorities. Only then, It is ready for large-scale production and subsequent distribution. Manufacturers with large scale production capacity get the license to produce the vaccines in bulk.
Distribution of the vaccine
This license includes stringent measures on quality control. After production, the vaccine is distributed as per the dissemination protocol set by the government. It is generally in the following order of priority:
- Frontline workers – medical staff, public administration officials, etc.
- Vulnerable sections – children, senior citizens, persons with comorbidities
- General public
A vaccine may also get “emergency use authorization” before getting final approval. When and if the exigencies of the pandemic situation call for it. The launching of two such vaccines, China’s Sinovac and Russia’s Sputnik V, was without clearing. Clearing of the Phase 3 stage in the vaccine development process. This has raised some serious concerns about their safety. A recent study has reported the side effects faced. 1 in every 7 individuals who have been administered the Sputnik V vaccine faced mild side-effects. Like body pain, sore throat, and headache. However, Russia has planned a global Phase 3 study of its vaccine, involving 45000 volunteers.
Russia has proposed to include India as a part of this global bridge trial. The country has also signed a pact with Dr. Reddy’s Laboratory, a leading multinational pharmaceutical company based in India, for distribution of the vaccine. That is, upon the successful completion of Phase 3 trials and registration with Indian regulators.
Vaccine and India
The Serum Institute of India, based in Pune, is the world’s largest vaccine producer. It is in a collaborative tie with the University of Oxford. In order to conduct the Phase 3 human trials of the ‘Covishield’ vaccine. Which is the candidate of the AstraZeneca-Oxford University. The vaccine is expected to be the first vaccine to be released in India. Production of it will be in large quantities by the Serum Institute.
The global trials of the aforementioned vaccine were temporarily halted. It was due to a case of spinal inflammation in one of the volunteers. It has received the green flag to continue testing after the required investigation. The Serum Institute has declared that the price of this vaccine. It will be capped at Rs 225 per dose and will be released in Q1 2021. This was also confirmed by Dr. Harsh Vardhan, the Union Health Minister of India. Adar Poonawala, CEO of the Serum Institute of India, had calculated. He says, the task of buying and distribution of vaccines to immunize the entire nation will be Rs. 80,000 crores assuming 2 doses per person. This poses a concerning challenge to the MoHFW and PMO. If the government was to bear the cost of this immunization program.
Leading COVID-19 vaccines’ candidates are advancing at an exceptional rate to advanced stages of clinical development. Many uncertainties still remain. Due to the complexity of the vaccine development process and the limited data available to date. Despite this, the hope persists that a viable, safe, and efficient vaccine will be developed soon. Until then, it is our responsibility to maintain social distancing and appropriate hygiene. Step out of your home only if absolutely necessary and wear a mask when you do. Let’s pledge to fight this invisible enemy responsibly.
Stay Healthy! Stay Protected!
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