Moderna has become the second company after Pfizer to get emergency use approval for its vaccine against coronavirus disease (Covid-19) on Saturday. Pfizer’s vaccine is approved in the UK, Canada, Mexico and Bahrain, among others. Russia has given early use approval to two indigenously developed vaccines, while China has giving limited use approval to four of its vaccines, two of which have also been approved in UAE and one in Bahrain.
The year began with Wuhan health officials reporting a mysterious cluster of pneumonia cases in 27 people to WHO on 31 December 2019, which was followed by scientists in China isolating the new coronavirus (Sars-CoV-2) on January 7, and sharing the its genetic sequence on January 11.
Within days, scientists began using a clutch of technologies for vaccine development, and today there are two approved vaccines, six with early or limited use approval, 18 in advanced trials, and at least 60 in early stages of trials.
Moderna and the Pfizer-BioNTech used the messenger RNA (mRNA) technique that had never been used before, while Oxford, Sputnik V, Biotech and Janssen and China’s CanSino used a defanged adenoviruses to fight Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, while other developers like Bharat Biotech in Hyderabad and Sinovac, Sinopharm-Wuhan and Sinopharm-Beijing in in China are working with inactivated virus.
Even with a dip in new Covid-19 cases over the past week, India has crossed the 10 million mark. All hopes are now pinned on vaccines, which the government will use to 250 million people at most risk by the summer of 2021. Five experimental vaccines are in advanced stages of clinical trials in India. Serum Institute of India (SII) has sought emergency use approval for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, of which it is the world’s largest producer, and Bharat Biotech in Hyderabad is readying its late stage trial data for regulatory approval.
India plans to strengthen its piggyback on its universal immunisation programme, which vaccinates needs of more than 26 million newborns and 29 million pregnant women each year to begin vaccinating the priority groups, which include healthcare and frontline workers, and followed by people 50 and above, depending on the early availability.
NITI Aayog member Dr VK Paul said on Saturday that a dozen nations had requested India for vaccines, which is the world’s largest producer of vaccine.
Apart bilateral deals, Pune-based SII is providing 200 million doses– with options for up to 900 million doses more – of either the AstraZeneca/Oxford or Novavax candidates, to Covax, which is a Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI)-led global initiative to ensure equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines for all countries, regardless of income.
Covax on Friday announced the signing of an advance purchase agreement with AstraZeneca for 170 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, and a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Johnson & Johnson for 500 million doses of the Janssen candidate, which is a single dose vaccine. These deals are in addition to Covax’s existing deal with SII and for 200 million doses, and another 200 million doses agreement for the Sanofi/GSK vaccine.
These advance agreements will make at least 1.3 billion donor-funded doses of approved vaccines available to 92 low- and middle-income economies in early 2021. The first deliveries are expected to begin to vaccinate healthcare and frontline workers in 92 countries in the half of 2021, depending upon regulatory approvals and countries’ readiness for delivery, with a target of up to 20% population coverage by the end of the year. Additional doses for higher coverage will be available in 2022.
As part of the Covax research and development portfolio, Cepi has invested in 10 experimental vaccines, seven of which are in clinical trials and nine are in development. Cepi is now evaluating additional candidates for support, including next-gen experimental vaccine to increase options and availability.
With the arsenal of vaccines, the world can win the war against Covid-19, but this will be possible only if we don’t discard masks or let down our guard until everyone is vaccinated.