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World will need COVID-19 vaccines for 20 years: Adar Poonawalla

There is not a single instance in history of a vaccine that has been discontinued

PB Jayakumar & Joe C Mathew | October 23, 2020 | Updated 08:25 IST
World will need COVID-19 vaccines for 20 years: Adar Poonawalla

Key Highlights:

  • For how many years have flu, pneumonia, measles, and even polio vaccines continued? Not one discontinued, says Poonawalla.
  • Vaccine not an exact science. It boosts immunity. It reduces severity of disease, but it doesn't prevent from getting the disease
  • Nobody knows how long the existing vaccines being developed can provide protection
  • Measles vaccine, the most powerful vaccine on the planet, protects against the disease. But we need to give measles vaccines every year to new-borns

If you have any hopes that universal immunisation of COVID-19 vaccine will curb its spread and continued viral infection across the world, it is time to face the harsh reality. We may have COVID-19 infections and hence the need for COVID-19 vaccines for another 20 years, says Adar Poonawalla, chief executive officer of the world's largest vaccine maker by volume, Serum Institute of India (SII).  

In an exclusive interaction with BusinessToday.In, Poonawalla says there is not a single instance in history of a vaccine that has been discontinued. "For how many years have flu, pneumonia, measles, and even polio vaccines continued? Not one of them has been discontinued," he points out.  

Also Read: Serum to launch 5 COVID-19 vaccines by 2021 end; floats new firm

Similarly, even if 100 per cent vaccination level is achieved among the population, COVID-19 vaccine will still be needed, he argues. "Vaccine is not an exact science. It boosts your immunity. It protects you. It reduces the severity of the disease when you get it, but it doesn't prevent you in 100 per cent cases from getting the disease. And if we are talking about vaccinating only parts of the population, and not 100 per cent, my argument is even if you vaccinate 100 per cent of the population, you will still need vaccines in the future."

The example he gives is that of measles vaccine, which has a 95 per cent efficacy, and is the most powerful vaccine today on the planet, in terms of its ability to protect against the disease. "Despite that we need to give measles vaccines every year to the new-born babies and the vulnerable population," he says.

Unlike the time-tested vaccines, COVID-19 vaccines that are in various stages of development at the moment carry additional uncertainty. "Nobody knows how long these existing vaccines that are going to be developed are going to give you protection. It could be one, two or three years, but you will still need repeated boosters. Now I only hope that you don't need a booster every year because that is not good. For example, in case of flu, every year, everyone has to take vaccine. In case of coronavirus, you may have to take the vaccine in every two to three years," he adds. 

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