The Centre has allowed some private labs to test for coronavirus and Biocon's Kiran Mazumdar Shaw is expected to be the government-appointed coordinator for overseeing the effort.
“This is a very important first step because I think this is a stage where the government has to rope in the private sector to create huge capacity that we need in terms of preparedness whether it is diagnostic tests, hospital beds, ICUs, ventilators, and so on and so forth,” Shaw, the Biocon CMD, told CNBC-TV18.
Commending the Indian Council for Medical Research for its decision to rope in private labs, Shaw said it was the first step towards expanding the capacity for diagnostic tests. “I was involved with this; it was a very strong public-private partnership even in terms of the process. It was done in a record time of less than a week,” she said.
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The outbreak was under control in India, but the country needed to be very careful, she said.
Frequently Asked Questions
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.
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.
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.
“We have about 400 cases and seven deaths. So, it is still very much under control, but the number of people under quarantine is huge and we need to test them urgently and start creating a database that tells us how severe the disease is,” she said.
Speaking about the number of private labs, she said, “If you look at the ICMR advisory, there is no restriction on the number of labs who can perform these tests. There are certain eligibility criteria which are about being an National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL) accredited lab, having the capability to do real-time PCR, and having the bio-safety level to facilities to carry out such tests."
Many labs were already performing H1N1 tests, which were very similar to the one for coronavirus, Shaw said, adding collection was critical and had to be done very carefully so those collecting the samples were not contaminated. “So, this has to be done with protected garments, there are standard operating procedures. So, all these labs have to know how to do this that is the thinking behind how the labs can quickly come on board,” she said.
Public health system in India was not robust and the outbreak had laid bare the healthcare system, she said. “This has exposed a lot of inadequacies and weaknesses in our public health system, starting with ventilators. Now, under this circumstance, we also are going to be woefully short of masks. Masks are something that many countries are getting done under cottage industry scale. This can also be another opportunity to create employment,” she said.
India used to be self-sufficient in starting materials for APIs but then it “surrendered our manufacturing of antibiotics to China”. “We are now discussing the importance of making sure that we are not now at risk like we are today to certain key starting materials for our APIs or for that matter antibiotics... I think this is the time where we have to take a restock of all that we have lost and regain what we have lost,” she said.