India has been in the midst of the coronavirus vaccine development space globally. The fact that the largest vaccine maker Serum Institute of India is based in the country and also the concerning fact that India continues to see a rise in the number of coronavirus cases have made India a point of interest.
Serum Institute of India that is manufacturing the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine is set to begin Phase 3 of clinical trials across the country from August 22. The trials would be conducted on 1,600 healthy volunteers with no history of coronavirus. Delhi's AIIMS is one of the 17 sites selected for this purpose. The trials would be observer-blind, randomised and controlled and would assess the efficacy and safety of the vaccine. The Oxford vaccine is believed to be the frontrunner among the COVID-19 candidates.
Andhra Medical College (Visakhapatnam), JSS Academy of Higher Education and Research (Mysore), Seth GS Medical College and KEM Hospital (Mumbai), KEM Hospital Research Centre (Vadu), B J Medical College and Sassoon General Hospital (Pune), PGIMER Chandigarh, apart from AIIMS Delhi are some of the few selected sites.
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) is assisting SII in conducting the Phase 2 and 3 of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine as well as US-based company Novavax's, as mentioned in a report in Livemint. Novavax had also recently signed a deal with SII for production of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate.
Meanwhile, Bharat Biotech's COVAXIN and Zydus Cadila's ZyCoV-D vaccines are also in the early stages of trial. India's Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan said that he expects COVAXIN to be out by end of the year. Both the vaccines, he added, would require a month extra for production.
The government had constituted the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration to select a vaccine and to offer required support for mass administration.
Additionally, Russia is eyeing a partnership with India for vaccine production. During an online press briefing on Thursday, Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of Russian Direct Investment Fund said, "The production of the vaccine is a very important issue. Currently, we are looking for a partnership with India. We believe that they are capable of producing the Gamaleya vaccine and it is very important to say that those partnerships to produce the vaccine will enable us to cover the demand that we have." They are also considering the possibility of clinical trials in different countries, including India.
However, when it comes to mass administration, the government will be faced with a lot of logistical challenges. To the question, who will receive the initial doses, the government is considering inoculating the front line workers, army personnel and certain categories first. The most vulnerable might be given the initial doses in the country.
Moreover, vaccine makers have also asked the government estimates for an assured market. The government has assured them that a large demand is estimated.
Meanwhile, the ICMR is undertaking a study in Mumbai to evaluate whether the BCG (Bacille Calmette- Guerin) vaccine is usually used against tuberculosis. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation said that Seth G S Medical College, civic-run KEM Hospital and the public health department of the BMC will jointly conduct the study for the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). "The study will also look at degree of severity of the disease and development of immunity using immunological markers," the BMC said.