Even as countries join forces to find a coronavirus vaccine, new challenges continue to emerge. For instance, the latest in a long queue of roadblocks is the concern that coronavirus could be airborne. The concerns emerged after 200 scientists wrote a letter to WHO showing evidence of coronavirus being airborne. However, WHO Chief Scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan said that COVID-19 is airborne but in a very "limited environment". She explained that aerosols or droplets of 5 microns that make way from one's mouth while speaking or breathing have the capacity to stay in the air for 10-15 minutes. "If you happen to enter that space and breathe that air, you may get infected because the tiny droplets containing the virus are still in the air," she said. Dr Swaminathan said, "We don't say it doesn't happen. But it does not mean that since COVID-19 is airborne, it means it is everywhere and nothing can be done. If it was truly airborne like measles, in the sense that it was everywhere, all of us would have been infected by now."
Nevertheless, pharmaceutical companies are still focussed on their primary goal -- to find a COVID-19 vaccine. Here are the latest developments from India and across the world:
Serum Institute of India: In an interview on NPR, CEO Adar Poonawala has stated that he has jumpstarted the production of four different coronavirus vaccine candidates. Even so, he acknowledges that these technologies have not been proven yet. One of the candidates that SII is working on is Oxford University and AstraZeneca's corona vaccine candidate. "Out of whatever I produce, 50 per cent to India and 50 per cent to rest of the world," said Poonawala.
Bharat Biotech: The company's coronavirus vaccine candidate COVAXIN has also received approval for trials in India. Bharat Biotech's spokesperson Praveen Ram said in an interview on NPR that staff members are working round the clock. "We actually moved our personnel into the graveyard shifts, you know, on a staggered basis so that there is more distance between people because it is the call of our lives, the fight of our lives," he said.
Zydus Cadila: The pharma company is the second to get approval from DCGI to conduct trials for its COVID vaccine. Zydus Cadila said that their vaccine has elicited strong immune response in multiple animal species like mice, rats, guinea pigs and rabbits. The company hopes to conclude the Phase I/II trials on over 1,000 people by October-November, and start Phase III after that. Zydus hopes to hit the market by early 2021.
Panacea Biotec: Panacea said that it is on schedule to produce the first production quantities of corona vaccine by January 2021. "We continue to evaluate candidate vaccines in pre-clinical investigations in accordance with (our) timeline. We do not envisage the commencement of clinical studies until September this year," the company said. It has set targets for production of 500 million doses for 2021 and 1 billion doses in 2022 for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate.
Moderna: Dr Anthony Fauci, the US government's leading infectious disease expert has said that Moderna's vaccine has shown "very promising results" which, he said, makes him cautiously optimistic. "Although you could never, ever predict with any certainty whether a vaccine is going to be safe and effective," he added. The US-based company has started the second phase of clinical trials of its coronavirus vaccine.
Johnson & Johnson: The global giant expects to produce a billion doses of its coronavirus vaccine candidate by the end of 2021. CEO Alex Gorsky, however, warned that a vaccine might still not be able to return society to the status quo. "There can be some mythology that the moment we have a vaccine, life is going to go back to normal - that we can do a high-five and go back to the way we always lived. I don't think that's going to be the case," he said at a conference. He also called the efforts to find a vaccine in 5-6 months a 'moonshot' and 'unprecedented'.
Ovisax: French biotech company has grabbed a $33.8 million deal for its universal vaccine that could help in fighting coronavirus as well. The company aims to bring about an immune response that would recognise and target a conserved part of the influenza virus instead of rapidly evolving surface antigens. Ovisax had earlier focussed only on the flu but now aims to protect the body against SARS-CoV-2 along with future coronavirus strains.
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