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Can the single dose Sputnik Light COVID-19 jab be a game changer for India?

Experts say that a single dose COVID-19 vaccine will help vaccinate twice as many people in the same amount of time, but the long term protection of these vaccines remain unclear

May 08, 2021 / 07:42 AM IST
Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19

Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19

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The single dose COVID-19 vaccine Sputnik Light approved by Russia, may well be meant for countries like India, that are struggling to ramp-up COVID-19 vaccination in the midst of a deadly second-wave. The single dose vaccine will not only be pitted against the single dose Johnson & Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine, but is also planned to be used as a booster to vaccines such as Covishield.

Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) told the media that Sputnik Light solves the challenge of immunising large groups in a shorter time, especially important during the acute phase of the spread of coronavirus. Dmitriev added that the vaccine would be produced by its partners in India, China and South Korea. Sputnik Light will be priced less than $10. 

While the double dose Sputnik V vaccine remains the main source of vaccination in Russia, the Sputnik Light will be exported to its international partners to help increase the rate of vaccinations in a number of countries in the face of the ongoing fight with the pandemic. "We believe that by June, Sputnik Light will be registered pretty much in most of the countries that registered for Sputnik V," Dmitriev  said.

Dr Reddy's Laboratories, the principal partner in India for RDIF declined to comment citing "silent period".  Dr Reddy's had received emergency use approval from DCGI for Sputnik V double dose in April. The company is in the process of rolling out that vaccine. Experts say that a single dose COVID-19 vaccine will help vaccinate twice as many people in the same amount of time, but the long term protection of these vaccines remain unclear, without the backing of robust clinical efficacy data.

Single dose concerns

"Maybe all adenovirus vaccines are inducing maximal effect with the first dose (at least for short term protection) and only J&J decided to go with one," said Dr Gagandeep Kang, renowned virologist.

COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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"If any single dose vaccine is licensed based on robust clinical efficacy data we can accept it and do real world evaluation of extent and duration of protection," Kang said.

"A single-dose vaccine would have benefit over a two-dose vaccine in that it could be administered to twice as many people in the same amount of time and vaccinating as many people as possible as quickly as possible is key to controlling the outbreak," said  Michael Breen, Director, Infectious Diseases and Ophthalmology at GlobalData Healthcare at GlobalData.

Breen added that the data from a single dose of Sputnik V (Sputnik light) are not dissimilar from a single dose of Pfizer/BioNTech's or Moderna's vaccines, or even AZ's vaccine, and indeed some places are spacing out the doses for these vaccines in order to rapidly vaccinate as many people as possible.

"It should be noted that these developers have not sought approval as a single dose, and this is likely driven by the fact that long-term protection from a single dose is unclear, and likely not to be as durable as two doses. So from a long-term standpoint, Sputnik Light is not ideal, but in terms of rapidly controlling the outbreak, with a second dose to come later, it's very promising," Breen said.

What exactly is Sputnik Light vaccine?

Sputnik Light is nothing but the first shot or dose of Sputnik V vaccine. The first dose of Sputnik V vaccines uses recombinant human adenovirus serotype number 26 (rAd26) viral vector to carry the code for spike (S) antigen of SARS-CoV-2 virus. Interestingly J&J's single dose vaccine is also based on human adenovirus serotype number 26 (rAd26). But J&J did a massive phase-3 trial to establish the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, and is approved by US, Europe and listed by WHO.

Essentially it will use the same production capacity that exists. India is the leading production hub for Sputnik V. RDIF has reached agreements with the leading pharmaceutical companies in the country such as Gland Pharma, Hetero Biopharma, Panacea Biotec, Stelis Biopharma, Virchow Biotech aimed at production of more than 850 million doses per year. About half of these doses can be used as a single dose vaccine.

Dmitriev promised that Sputnik Light will cover all the existing mutations within the next two months. On efficacy, RDIF said the single dose Sputnik Light vaccine demonstrated 79.4 percent efficacy according to analyzed data taken from 28 days after the injection was administered as part of Russia’s mass vaccination program between 5 December 2020 and 15 April 2021.
Viswanath Pilla is a business journalist with 14 years of reporting experience. Based in Mumbai, Pilla covers pharma, healthcare and infrastructure sectors for Moneycontrol.
first published: May 7, 2021 09:08 pm