ood news is that two Indian firms have come up with claims to have developed vaccines for Covid-19. This comes with a rider that the fast-track mode in which the vaccines are claimed to have been developed and scheduled for trial might not have seen full compliance with safety regulations vis-à-vis their efficacy and the likely hazards or side-effects they could create for human life. Covaxin, developed by Hyderabad based Bharat Biotech and ZyCov-D, developed by Zydus Cadila have been approved for Phase I and II trials this past week.
While the good news is making people happy, the medical community of India is extremely perturbed by the haste being shown by the Indian Council of Medical Research to push Covaxin and make it available for public usage by 15 August 2020. Critics claim the date has more to do with political histrionics on the occasion of Independence Day and not so much on sensible scientific research guidelines as set by global standards.
According to a detailed report published by the World Economic Forum, there are over 100 studies underway across the world to find a vaccine for Covid-19. Vaccination is one of the world’s most successful health interventions, saving as many as 3 million lives every year. But costs, conflict and vaccine hesitancy are among the barriers. However, according to the WEF article, development of any vaccine could still take a very long time. In the first discovery/research phase, up to 100 potential vaccines take anything between 2-5 years. In the second pre-clinical stage, around 20 potential vaccines take nearly 2 years. In the third stage of clinical development, which is also called Phase I, in which it is tested for safety, 10 potential vaccines consume 1-2 years. In Phase II of the clinical development, 5 potential vaccines are tested whether they activate an immune response, which takes between 2-3 years. In Phase III, one potential vaccine is tested whether it protects against the disease and that test carries on for 2-4 years. Finally, that one successful vaccine could take 1-2 years for regulatory review and approval. In all, it could take about 10 years and cost US $500 million.
Dr Jerome Kim, Director General of the International Vaccine Institute has said that the speed with which researchers and pharmaceutical companies have responded to the coronavirus pandemic has been “unprecedented”. While Dr Kim’s statement may indicate that the urgency demonstrated by researchers across the world may result in an earlier than a decade timeline for development of a Covid-19 vaccine, yet a reliable and efficient is humanly impossible to be produced by August 15, 2020, a date initially set by Balaram Bhargava, Director, ICMR.
The allegation that it is not science but politics that is driving India’s Covid vaccine race may sound acceptable to many citizens. It is not only India that is working for this particular vaccine but many other medically advanced countries known for their research and abilities in developing new pharma products have been actively pursuing development of the vaccine. Countries like Italy, Israel, Germany, US and interestingly, China itself, among others have been slogging away since early this year at this task. The task is definitely not an easy one, especially since this virus is a new life form that has come to human attention barely a year ago.
Therefore, it would be wise not to endanger human lives and rush through an imperfect research just for personal aggrandizement and scoring points. It is an accepted fact that India has been in the forefront of producing generic medicines. That however does not make this country capable of expedited research into unknown frontiers of medicine. So, these developments take a long time for good reasons and there are no short and sweet paths to success. Patience and diligence are the mainstay of any research. This is a great opportunity for India to show the world community that it has the wherewithal and human resource to achieve what it sets its heart on. This should not be lost out on petty interests. The only good vaccine is one that saves lives without jeopardizing them.