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India says local COVID-19 vaccine final trials could end within two months

The state-run Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and privately-held Bharat Biotech this month started third-stage trials of COVAXIN, in a process that would involve 26,000 volunteers. It is the most advanced Indian experimental vaccine.

November 23, 2020 / 07:32 AM IST
File image: Reuters

File image: Reuters


Union health minister Dr Harsh Vardhan said a locally-developed Covid-19 vaccine candidate could complete its final trials in a month or two, raising hopes for a rapid roll-out in a country with the world’s second highest number of infections.

The state-run Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and privately-held Bharat Biotech this month started third-stage trials of COVAXIN, in a process that would involve 26,000 volunteers. It is the most advanced Indian experimental vaccine.

“We are in the process of developing our indigenous vaccines, in the process of completing our third-phase trials in the next one or two months,” Harsh Vardhan told a web conference on the pandemic.

He reiterated the government’s plan was to immunise 200 million to 250 million Indians by July.

An ICMR scientist told Reuters earlier this month the vaccine could be launched in February or March, although Bharat Biotech separately told Reuters on Friday that results of the late-stage trials were expected only between March and April.

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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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Vardhan, however, said in September the government could opt for emergency vaccine authorisation, particularly for the elderly and people in high-risk workplaces.

Indian officials have said they expect to rely on COVAXIN and four other locally-tested candidates to control Covid-19, as they do not expect early access to sufficient quantities of those developed by Pfizer and Moderna.

The other experimental vaccines on trial in India are the one being developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University that is being manufactured by the Serum Institute of India; Russia’s Sputnik-V; Zydus Cadila’s ZyCoV-D and lastly one that Biological E. Ltd is developing with Baylor College of Medicine and Dynavax Technologies Corp.

Serum’s CEO said on Friday the AstraZeneca vaccine could be delivered to Indian healthcare workers and the elderly by January.

India on Sunday recorded 45,209 new infections, taking the total to 9.09 million, only behind that of the United States. Deaths rose by 501 to 133,227, with Delhi recording the highest number of daily fatalities in the country over the last few days.

Reuters
first published: Nov 23, 2020 07:32 am

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