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A vaccine for COVID-19: So near and yet so far

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Vaccine against coronavirus: So near and yet so far?
Vaccine against coronavirus: So near and yet so far?
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With the numbers of those infected with COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) escalating everyday globally we are indeed wading through turbulent waters with no end at sight. Scientists around the world are literally burning the midnight oil, searching frantically for a treatment to rid the world of this pandemic. It is a race between humans and the virus. And although it is too early to predict anything, their efforts for developing a vaccine have met with some initial successes, with 5 candidate vaccines having entered phase-3 of their clinical trials. And as we wait with bated breath for the magic vaccine, a historic moment has already set in with the large scale manufacturing of some of these vaccines already begun, including in India.

saving human lives has primacy over money

This is an unprecedented move - to start producing large quantities of vaccines irrespective of the final outcome of the trials. It is a calculated risk that philanthropic organisations and some governments are ready to take by giving precedence to saving human lives over losing money (in case the vaccine does not make it to the final milestone). It will ensure timely and large-scale availability of doses in case that particular vaccine is successful.

AZD1222

One such candidate vaccine is AZD1222 that is being developed jointly by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca. The Pune-based Serum Institute of India, the largest vaccine manufacturer in the world, that has entered into a manufacturing partnership with AstraZeneca, has committed to manufacture 1 billion (100 crore) doses of this vaccine and has already commenced production.

"This is a big, yet deliverable, assurance for global health as India is already the biggest manufacturer and supplier of more than 60% different kinds of vaccines worldwide. It is vital to ensure that manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccine remains in countries like India so that the world can have access to cheap and affordable prevention against the dreaded virus, without delay by ensuring equitable distribution", said Dr Ishwar Gilada, senior infectious diseases expert, and Secretary General of Organized Medicine Academic Guild (OMAG). Dr Gilada is also the President of AIDS Society of India, and on the governing council of International AIDS Society (IAS).

India is also likely to participate in phase-3 clinical trial of AZD1222. As per a news report, Serum Institute of India said it will apply for a licence from the Indian regulator to start clinical trials of the vaccine in the country very soon. Dr S Natarajan, President of Organised Medicine Academic Guild (OMAG) and a Padmashree awardee (among the highest civilian honours in the country) hoped that the Indian Government will play a proactive role and expedite clearance to conduct these trials in India. While cautioning that "the results of phase-3 clinical trial will be very important to decide the safety, effectiveness and roll-out of the vaccine for public health use", he conceded that the initial results of this study give hope and that India should be proud to be a part of this initiative.

The results of the Phase-1/2 trial of AZD1222 published in The Lancet, indicate no early safety concerns and no serious side effects by the vaccine in 1077 trial participants aged 18-55 years. The vaccine produced a dual immune response that lasted till at least 56 days after they were immunised. Not only did it produce antibodies, which are the immune system's natural response, but it also produced T-cells that directly kill virus infected cells and are said to last much longer in the human body as compared to the protective antibodies.

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