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Urgently trying to work with AstraZeneca, SII, Indian govt to restart COVID-19 vaccine shipments: WHO Official

“We have a huge number of countries that have had to suspend rollout of their second doses of vaccines," Bruce Aylward, Senior Advisor to World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said on Friday at a press briefing.

June 19, 2021 / 10:34 AM IST
The government has thus far procured vaccines at a lower price compared to the global market.  [Source: Reuters]

The government has thus far procured vaccines at a lower price compared to the global market. [Source: Reuters]

The WHO is “urgently” trying to work with AstraZeneca, Serum Institute of India (SII) as well as the Indian government to restart shipments of COVID-19 vaccines to countries that had to suspend the rollout of second doses of vaccines amid the disruption in supplies, a senior official at the UN health agency has said.

“We have a huge number of countries that have had to suspend rollout of their second doses of vaccines," Bruce Aylward, Senior Advisor to World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said on Friday at a press briefing.

"It's over 30 or 40 countries that could have been targeted for second doses of AstraZeneca vaccines (but they) will not be able to do that,” Aylward said.

“We are now urgently trying to work with AstraZeneca itself as well as SII, the Government of India to restart those shipments so that we can get those second doses into those populations because we are running” to a longer interval “than we would have liked,” he said.

Aylward added that several countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, Middle East and South Asia have been hit hard by this.

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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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“Some countries particularly hit hard include those that surround India like Nepal, Sri Lanka, others who suffered a severe wave of disease. We are very, very desperately trying to access doses. We've had quite a substantial problem related to this,” he said.

Earlier this month, Aylward had said about 80 million ((8 crore) doses have been distributed through COVAX and the global alliance for equitable vaccine distribution is about 200 million (20 crore) doses behind where it should be due to disruption in COVAX supplies as a result of the devastating second wave of the coronavirus in India.

“The problem now is the supplies are being interrupted. We're having disruptions because of the problems in India and others and having trouble filling that gap. And as a result, the countries are having trouble getting momentum and getting started well,” Aylward had said.

He added that supplies out of India were interrupted because of the need to redirect them there amid the surging second wave.

He noted that the donation of vaccines is a “short-term” solution in the face of a very imperfect market and those countries that have the financial resources and are producing the products actually have access to vaccines.

“That is what we're trying to change, particularly in this period June through September,” he said.

Earlier this month, Aylward had said WHO expects SII volumes to open up again in the fourth quarter at least and had warned that “we're setting up for failure if we don't get early doses.”

The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, is the key supplier of AstraZeneca doses to COVAX.

However, the supply of vaccines from SII to COVAX has been impacted as the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic ravages India.

Last month, Ghebreyesus had said that once the devastating outbreak in India recedes, “we also need the Serum Institute of India to get back on track and catch up on its delivery commitments to COVAX.”
PTI
first published: Jun 19, 2021 10:37 am

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