As of now, India has approved six vaccines for use
1 COVISHIELD Serum Institute of India
2 COVAXIN Bharat Biotech
3 SPUTNIK V Dr Reddy’s and six-eight other Indian companies
4 MRNA-1273 (MODERNA) Cipla (to import)
5 AD26.COV2.S (J&J) Biological E
6 ZYCOV-D Zydus Cadila
WHEN VASANT (VAS) Narasimhan, the global CEO of Novartis AG, met Business Today at the company’s India office in Mumbai on February 17, 2020, India had already reported the first cases of the Coronavirus. They were three medical students who had returned to their native Kerala from Wuhan in the Hubei province of China. At that point, 1,523 people had died of the outbreak in Wuhan. For most Indians, the Coronavirus was just another curious case of a new virus surfacing in the Far East or Africa. A week before that, on February 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) had baptised ‘Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV2’ with a new name—‘Covid-19’— and was yet to declare the outbreak a ‘pandemic’.
Naturally, Covid-19 was also a point of discussion with Narasimhan. Replying to a question on why big multinational pharmaceutical companies were not researching on developing vaccines for such viruses, the US-born Indian executive said, “Right now, we don’t have a great market for these antibiotics. Usually it doesn’t make for a great business case, because you don’t know whether the virus will remain or not.” If a company takes the risk of researching a vaccine for a virus outbreak, the virus itself may disappear by the time the vaccine reaches the market, and it may or may not resurface again, he had explained. So, it is the job of governments to fund such public health concerns.
Covid-19 soon spread across the globe. As of September 14, 2021, the virus has infected over 220 million people and caused the death of 4.4 million people. Within weeks of that interview, Narasimhan had to take up additional responsibility to save humankind, as the co-chair of a consortium of leading global life sciences companies to find and supply vaccines, diagnostics, and treatments for Covid-19. That was the beginning of the biggest-ever hunt for a vaccine in human history.
While new drugs and vaccines historically took almost 8-12 years of development to reach the market, Covid-19 vaccines were developed within two years of the virus being discovered, through unprecedented concerted efforts of scientists, regulators and governments. So far, 117 vaccines are in clinical development worldwide, while another 185 are in pre-clinical development. According to data from GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, 21 vaccines are already in the market, 34 are in final Phase 3 trials, and another 35 are in Phase 2. According to statistics from ourworldindata.org, which tracks the pandemic, 42.3 per cent of the world population has received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, as of September 14. So far, 5.76 billion doses have been administered globally and 33 million are now administered each day.
India has been at the forefront of fighting the virus. It has approved for use six Covid-19 vaccines, though only two-three of them—early ones like Covishield, Covaxin and Sputnik—account for the mega vaccination drive in India. As of September 16, India has vaccinated nearly 20 per cent of the adult population with two doses, while 62 per cent have got at least one dose. That is nearly 770 million vaccinations, including two doses for 190 million people, according to the Co-WIN dashboard. While India is vaccinating at a run rate of over 750,000 people a day, with vaccine production being augmented month after month, the government is hopeful of vaccinating the entire adult population by the end of the year.
HOWEVER, THE PROBLEM is mutation of the virus and ‘breakthrough’ infections, that is, the virus breaking through the protective barrier provided by the vaccine. A Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR)-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology-Max Hospitals study says one-fourth of 600 fully vaccinated healthcare workers were re-infected, though complications and hospitalisations were minimum. A similar study by the Christian Medical College (CMC), Vellore and Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh, says about 1-10 per cent of fully vaccinated healthcare workers have been re-infected, but only 5 per cent of those required hospitalisation. So far, mutated variants recognised by the WHO are Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Delta Plus. Studies say Delta and Delta Plus variants account for nearly 70 per cent of the infections currently in India.
With the fear of mutated variants increasing and experts of the opinion that the virus is likely to stay with us longer, people are already demanding booster doses to boost their immunity.
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