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Science amazing, but no global coordination: WHO chief scientist on COVID-19 pandemic

Speaking in a panel discussion as part of BioAsia 2022, she said though several high-end countries have completed vaccination to the extent of 90 per cent some of the nations in Africa have completed only 10 per cent inoculation even as there was ease on vaccine supply side globally.

February 24, 2022 / 07:04 PM IST
World Health Organization (WHO) Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan (Image: Reuters)

World Health Organization (WHO) Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan (Image: Reuters)

Though the scientific achievement with regards to tackling COVID-19 pandemic is commendable, there was no global coordination on some of the issue and several countries did not abide by the framework put out by the Word Health Organisation, Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist of WHO said on Thursday.

Speaking in a panel discussion as part of BioAsia 2022, she said though several high-end countries have completed vaccination to the extent of 90 per cent some of the nations in Africa have completed only 10 per cent inoculation even as there was ease on vaccine supply side globally.

"I think that while the scientific achievements have been absolutely outstanding, the fact that we have a vaccine in less than a year, Where we fell short was on really global coordination and harmonised ways of approaching pandemic whether it is travel rules. That doesn’t help actually in the pandemic,” she said referring to the reaction to travel restrictions on South Africa when a new variant of COVID-19 was found.

The WHO chief scientist further said though the world has passed over the face of acute supply shortage that was seen throughout 2021, the challenge is going to be massive as there are many countries which are not able to mount the kind of massive vaccination programmes.

She also said the WHO is working on scenarios where variant-proof vaccines are developed and suggested that there is a need for a distributed manufacturing network across the globe.

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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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Amitabh Kant, CEO of NITI Aayog who also participated in the panel discussion opined that the government needs to incentivise the research and development and also sectors such as Biopharma in a big way to help India transition from a low value high-volume play to a high-value high-volume player in the global pharma market.

"We are examining the ways to strengthen the system for and push for greater industry academy academic collaborations. There is a need to promote innovation, global partnerships, and knowledge sharing amongst our scientific community,” he said.

Krishna Ella, chairman and managing director of Bharat Biotech International Limited said some of the regulatory processes should be simplified in order to act fast on product development.



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PTI
first published: Feb 24, 2022 07:04 pm
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