Distributing COVID-19 vaccine around the world fairly without letting the rich countries corner the limited doses is going to be a big challenge, the World Health Organisation's Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan said on Wednesday.
On vaccine development for the novel coronavirus, she said: "By early 2021, we should have some good news."
Then, there is the big challenge of being able to scale, distribute and allocate fairly around the world without letting the rich countries corner the limited doses, Swaminathan said.
She made the comments while addressing the valedictory of the XV international conference on public policy & management hosted by the Centre for Public Policy at Indian Institute of Management Bangalore in a virtual mode, according to an IIMB statement.
But India is in a good position because many companies are working on vaccine development, either on their own or in collaboration, she said, adding, the country is a manufacturing hub for vaccines.
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.
The pandemic has exacerbated inequalities, and it has proved to be a learning opportunity to improve resilience and strengthen public health systems, according to her.
The focus needs to be on global collaboration when dealing with the virus diagnostics, therapeutics, behavioural and mental health concerns, transmission, vaccine development, and how the disease impacts children (learning, cognitive development) with schools being shut, the statement quoted her as saying.
"The mortality rate is not going up in the second wave of the pandemic.
This is probably related to demographics and other factors we do not yet know why South Asia and Africa have lower mortality rates than Europe and the Americas," Swaminathan said.Follow our full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here.