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In pursuit of a Vaccine for Covid-19

While the quest for Covid19 vaccine has begun, quick results are highly unlikely

Covid-19 pandemic has brought vaccines under limelight once again. Research laboratories and pharma/biotech companies are working overtime to develop a vaccine against coronavirus at the earliest. As of July 31st, 2020, more than 100 efforts to develop a vaccine for Covid-19 are underway in different parts of the world, and at least four of these are in phase III trials – three in China and one in the UK. As per some unverified reports, some phase III trials are underway in Russia also, but not much is known about these trials at the moment.

We have two promising candidate vaccines here in India also – one at Bharat Biotech in collaboration with ICMR and the other at Zydus Cadila. The Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) has allowed both of them to start human clinical trials. Besides the early stage trials of these two indigenous candidate vaccines, Serum Institute of India received the regulatory approval on July 31st, 2020 to conduct a large multicentric phase III trial for the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine in India.

Every small or big news coming out of the laboratories is getting dissected endlessly – not always in the most logical manner and often with more political rather than scientific context. For example, there have been claims by eminent people in India, US and other countries that a vaccine for Covid-19 could be available by or before the last quarter of 2020. In fact, just this week Russian news agencies announced that two candidate vaccines there are in the last phase of development and that Russia will launch a vaccine by August 12th itself.

I have discussed this in a detailed point of view here.

We need to be careful while setting any timelines for Covid-19 vaccine. Going by the history of vaccine development, this seems a rather aggressive timeline. Till date, Mumps vaccine is the fastest developed vaccine, which took four years in development – from the time of initial sample collection in 1963 to its licensing for mass consumption in 1967. Despite all the scientific advancements since then, Mumps vaccine remains the only vaccine ever to be developed in less than five years. So, to have a vaccine for Covid-19 thoroughly tested, approved and readied within under one year may actually be a wee bit too ambitious a goal.

By Dr Lalit Singh , Managing Director – McGraw Hill Education, India

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