Coronavirus: India might be the Saviour of the world

Kakali Das

The year 2020 is an absolute pest and an abhorring slice of time. People we love and adore are just dropping dead. The entire world is in the throes of a pandemic and we have no clue how to deal with it. As our generation sat on the first row seats watching the global pandemic unfold and claim lives, we often reminded ourselves that just a few weeks back life was placid, well-adjusted and the most part, rational. Things changed like the snap-of-a-finger. Thousands of human who just a few months back were full of life are pushing daisies up in some abandoned, “infection prone” cemetery. And worse still, lacs are still fighting the virus in hospital wards with perseverance, persistence and zeal.

As the world has around three million confirmed cases of the Coronavirus disease and over two hundred thousand people have died, most countries are yet in lockdown. While the governments have been trying to attempting to figure out when this will cease, researchers pushing relentlessly their last stores of energy to break-free the world from its viral menace. It has come to light that India  might have a role to play in liberating the world from the lockdown. In-order to understand the role that India will play, we require knowing how the vaccines are manufactured and how they’re developed and researched. As we were informed that the vaccine might take around 2 years and realising the virulent nature of the disease the common mass have been baffling considering this as an health emergency. It has been evident that vaccines take around 10-15 years to develop because they’re mass produced and given to large number of people. It has to be ensured that they won’t cause harm.

The process of developing a vaccine is painstaking. Step 1 is to first develop and actually identify a candidate vaccine and then ensure that it doesn’t cause harm to humans. This step usually involves testing on animals prior to humans (this may sound cruel but that’s the protocol). Step 2 is to identify if this vaccine actually works and that it shields us from the virus that we’ve been vaccinated it against. This involves testing on about a hundred human subjects which takes a year to get through. Step 3 involves proving how longer the protecting last and in what quantity are the doses required which again takes several years. Step 4 is to get regulatory approval of the governments. In respect to the current pandemic, the governments around the world are standing by to hand out the approval as quickly as they can as it’s a health emergency. Step 5 is about the manufacturing of the vaccines. The manufacturing of such hefty amount of vaccines after approval require almost 6 months to achieve because of the equipment, the personnel, the infrastructure needs to be built-up.

As the scientists across the world began scrambling for a vaccine, we were told it could take years to develop even in the accelerated process. The advantage we have is that the previous outbreak of SARS and MERS are the cousins of the COVID-19 and the scientists had begun working on the vaccines for each of those previous cousins since last year that a lot of work has now been adopted for the COVID-19. Last year, the Jenner Institute in Oxford had tested some versions of vaccines and established that they are not harmful to human beings –apparently signals the achievement of Step 1. Again, last month The National Institute of Health in United States had conducted an animal testing and given the doses of the vaccine produced in the Jenner Institute to 6 monkeys and repeatedly exposed them to the COVID-19 prone zones. It turned out that after a month, the monkeys have been perfectly healthy while the other monkeys that were in the trial got repeatedly sick. While this doesn’t conclusively prove that because it worked on the monkeys, it will work on human beings, it’s a step closer towards the antidote. The scientists in Oxford will now begin testing the vaccine on six hundred human subject candidates starting this week and if they get hold of the regulatory approval they could get a vaccine by the end of September.

 Even though the vaccine gets ready in Oxford in the estimated time, it will still take about six months before we manufacture the mass doses. It would require billions of these vaccines in-order to make it available for every human being on Earth. How would that happen? That is where the role of India comes into play. India has quietly been the manufacturer of the world’s vaccines. Our country has dozens of companies which manufacture vaccines for Polio, Pneumonia, Tuberculosis, Rubella and several other diseases. The Serum Institute of India, Pune, the largest manufacturer of vaccines in the world makes 1.5 billion doses of 20 different vaccines which are priced about $0.50 (INR35)/dose (the cheapest in the world). Because this already has a base and infrastructure, it has a head start to manufacture the Oxford vaccine prior to the other institutes. The Serum Institute of India has already announced that it’s going to manufacture the Oxford vaccine in May sans waiting for the trials or the regulatory approval so that when the approval does come they would have already built up their manufacturing 50-100 million doses by September. In the worst case if the trials fail and the scientists have to drift back to the drawing board, Serum Institute of India will incur huge losses, the losses which the CEO of the company believes worth it. In an interview to the New York Times, Adar Poonawalla, CEO, Serum Institute has been quoted saying, “ The decision has been taken to have enough doses available, if the clinical trials prove successful.” He also said, “A majority of the vaccine at least initially, would have to go to our countrymen before it goes abroad.” Moreover, he said that he would leave the rest to the government of India regarding which countries would get the doses and in what quantities and when. It’s not merely The Serum Institute but Hyderabad based company, Bharat Biotech joined hands with an US-based firm to develop three hundred million doses of the vaccine for global distribution. Zydus have explored two different vaccines that they have announced.

Vaccine research and manufacturing have never really been a priority for big pharma companies in the West because it has been largely a demand from the third world countries and hence there’s no pricing game in back seat. India, over the large several decades have built an expertise and a quiet capacity of manufacturing last doses of vaccines for the globe. It’s this capacity that might make India the saviour of the entire world from COVID-19.•

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