As global efforts are on to develop a safe and affordable COVID-19 vaccine, the big question remains unanswered: When will it be ready? India, which is only behind the United States and Brazil in coronavirus numbers, is also quickening up its pace to find a potent drug as early as possible. However, since the Centre is yet to announce a national policy on COVID-19 vaccination, public healthcare experts are of the opinion that Ayushman Bharat, the government's flagship health insurance scheme, will lay the road ahead and undertake a vaccination programme specifically designed for the poor. Meanwhile, many experts believe that a COVID-19 vaccine will be ready only by mid-2021.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) and its alliance partners, including the vaccine alliance GAVI, have said the goal is to create 2 billion doses of coronavirus vaccine by 2021.
Here are the latest developments from India and across the world:
- Bharat Biotech
The Hyderabad-based biotech company has started human trials on its vaccine candidate, 'Covaxin', which is India's first indigenous COVID-19 vaccine. It is working to develop an initial capacity of 200 million vials of the vaccine. Bharat Biotech is developing the vaccine in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
- Premas Biotech
The Gurugram-based Biotech company that has developed a triple antigen virus-like particle (VLP) vaccine candidate has said that it has moved to the animal trial phase. "The four-week placebo-controlled, blinded and randomised tests to be conducted in mice, will seek to evaluate safety in the rodent model and examine immune response by dose titration," the company has said. Currently, Premas is the only Indian company to explore a triple antigen COVID vaccine candidate.
- Zydus Cadila
The pharmaceutical company has received approval from the DCGI to conduct human trials for the coronavirus vaccine it has named ZyCoV-D. The trials will begin this month with 1,000 volunteers across multiple cities. "We are following the adaptive clinical trial protocol (phase I followed by phase II without much gap in between) which, in a pandemic or emergency area, is permitted by regulators across the world. We will take about three months to complete the Phase I and II clinical trials, after which we will approach the DCGI for their consideration," said Zydus Cadila Chairman Pankaj R Patel in an interview to The Indian Express.
Russia has become the first nation to successfully complete human trials of COVID-19 vaccine. The country's Sechenov University has concluded the world's first clinical trials of coronavirus vaccine on humans, according to media reports. Confirming the development to state news agency Sputnik, the director of the Institute for Translational Medicine and Biotechnology Vadim Tarasov said the university had initiated clinical trials of the vaccine on June 18. The first group of volunteers will be released on Wednesday and the second on July 20.
Chinese vaccine developer CanSino Biologics is in talks with Russia, Brazil, Chile, and Saudi Arabia to launch a Phase III trial of its experimental COVID-19 vaccine, it's co-founder said on Saturday. China's success in driving down COVID-19 infections has made it harder to conduct large-scale vaccine trials, and so far only a few countries have agreed to work with it.
Its COVID-19 candidate, Ad5-nCov, became the first in China to move into human testing in March but is running behind other potential vaccines in terms of trial progress. Two experimental vaccines developed by Sinovac Biotech and a unit of China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) are already approved for Phase III trials.
- Oxford University vaccine
Oxford University, which is conducting trials of its ChAdOx1 vaccine, has said that its vaccine is safe even for people with low immunity. "We have removed some of the adenovirus genes so that when we use it as a vaccine, the adenovirus can't spread through the body. That makes it very safe, even in people with a weak immune system. But because it is still a live virus, it is good at inducing a strong immune response after vaccination," said Professor Sarah Gilbert, Nuffield Department of Medicine, Oxford University. The vaccine is undergoing trials, involving 5,000 volunteers, in Brazil.
The pharmaceutical company has concluded the participant enrolment for its phase two of trials. Moderna has, meanwhile, signed an agreement with Spain's Laboratorios Farmaceuticos Rovi SA to scale up production and manufacturing of its coronavirus vaccine. ROVI will procure a new production line and equipment for vial filling and packaging, automatic visual inspection and labeling, and hire more staff to support the production of millions of doses of Moderna's vaccine candidate, the companies said.