With vaccine rollout beginning in some countries, the world ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic is looking to India for the large-scale production and supply of coronavirus vaccines as it enters 2021.
As the pandemic hit the world in 2020, the Indian pharma industry rose to the occasion and was able to manufacture and maintain supply chains even during the lockout period, and exported medicines such as HCQ and paracetamol to more than 150 countries, keeping its image of "Reliable Pharmacy of the World".
The world is again looking at India as a beacon of hope to manufacture and supply the huge number of vaccines needed to tackle the pandemic.
"India contributes 60 percent of the vaccine production to the world. India is going to play a vital role in the inequitable distribution of vaccines around the world," Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance (IPA) Secretary-General Sudarshan Jain told PTI.
While Indian companies such as Zydus, Bharat Biotech and Gennova are developing indigenous vaccines, other domestic companies are collaborating with global companies such as Serum Institute with AstraZeneca, Dr Reddys with Sputnik, and Biological E with J&J, he added.
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.
"India will also be a benchmark in vaccine distribution and will be using technology to ensure targeted and phased distribution. India has always believed that global cooperation and coordination is fundamental to meet the COVID situation," Sudarshan Jain said.
Currently, three COVID-19 vaccine candidates of Bharat Biotech, Serum Institute of India, and Pfizer are under active consideration of India's drug regulator and there is hope that early licensure is possible for all or any of them, according to the Union health ministry.
Indian Drug Manufacturers' Association (IDMA) Executive Director Ashok Kumar Madan said, "We are sure with all the attention given by the government, vaccines will too be available for use from January 2021 onwards. These vaccines are being approved by our Drugs Controller as per the stringent international norms. We take pride that almost 70 percent of the WHO vaccine procurements are from India".
Indian firms have used different platforms to produce vaccines.
Scientists in these firms have the capability to produce the vaccine to counter the mutated forms in a short time, he added.
On the availability of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, Serum Institute of India (SII) CEO Adar Poonawalla told PTI that based on the trial results in India and the UK, and if approvals from regulatory bodies are in place in time, "then we can expect the vaccine to be available in India by January 2021 (only if it is proven immunogenic and efficacious)".
As part of various partnerships and collaborations for vaccine candidates, SII will keep aside 50 percent of whatever quantity of the vaccine candidates are produced for India and the remaining quantity will go to low and middle-income countries, he noted."So far, under at-risk manufacturing, we have already stockpiled 50 million doses. Currently, our capacity is 60-70 million doses per month, which will increase further up to 100 million doses of the vaccine per month by February 2021. However, we will progress to mass production only after it is proven efficacious and immunogenic for mass use," Adar Poonawalla said.