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COVID-19 vaccine | Rush for drug in China raises fears of booming illegal market

Despite none of the Chinese firms has released any public data on the efficacy of their shots in Phase III trials, people in the Asian countries are bending the rules to get hold of the unproven Chinese vaccines.

November 26, 2020 / 03:43 PM IST
Representative Image (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Representative Image (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

With pharmaceutical firms like Pfizer Inc., Moderna, and AstraZeneca claiming that their COVID-19 vaccines are near the finish lines, reports from China arrived on the inequitable distribution and even the emergence of illegal markets.

Despite the fact that none of the Chinese firms has released any public data on the efficacy of their shots in Phase III trials, people in the Asian countries are bending the rules to get hold of the unproven Chinese vaccines. Some are even paying $91 to take two doses of what it is believed as a vaccine being produced by a unit of Sinopharm.

Coronavirus Vaccine | After year-long sprint, COVID-19 vaccines finally at hand

Scientists looked concerned over the potential safety risks as hundreds of thousands of people in China were jabbed under the emergency-use programme. This is despite the fact that the COVID-19 vaccines haven’t received final regulatory approval.

"There are substantial opportunities for the vaccine to be diverted to those with connections. Prior to the pandemic, citizens often used personal connections or had to pay bribes in order to access health-care services," Bloomberg quoted London-based director of Transparency International’s health initiative Rachel Cooper as saying.

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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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On the other hand, China National Biotec Group Co., the arm of Sinopharm, has claimed to have applied for public use authorisation for its shots. If the vaccine is approved, CNBG would be the second Asian firm after Russia to reach the general market.

CNBG even claimed to have over 50,000 people in countries from Argentina to Egypt under its final stage human trials and haven't received any reports of serious adverse events in participants.

As per the Bloomberg reports, CNBG had signed supply agreements for its vaccine candidate with countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates.

Meanwhile, China had already started giving CNBG shots to staff in government ministries and state-owned companies. Despite being vaccinated, recipients of the Chinese COVID-19 drug remain sceptical.

In India, Serum Institute of India CEO Adar Poonawalla had played down concerns that the wealthy will hive off scarce batches. Poonawalla intends to ration the first set of jabs to front-line workers and vulnerable people.

"I’ve refused, whether you’re rich and powerful or a common friend, I think we all just have to wait," said Poonawalla, adding, "Of course, if there are some friends and others we can always make a few hundred. It’s nothing, it’s not even a day’s production."
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