Guest Column: Waiting for the dawn of a Covid free era
The year that saw the world in the group of a pandemic, the one ray of hope is the Covid-19 vaccine. As reported in various newspapers, a number of Covid-19 vaccines are in the final stages of trials and are likely to hit the market soon for phased use. If priority approvals are given by licensing authorities in India and elsewhere, the vaccines could be available at the dawn of 2021.
It has been reported in the media that the Oxford Vaccine developed by Oxford University and British-Swedish multinational pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca is 70.4% effective in its trials in India and abroad. People are now relieved knowing that, at last, there is some shield available against the deadly virus that has affected over 60.18 million people around the world and has taken at least 1.41 million lives globally.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine will be produced in India by Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII). As reported, 40 million doses have already been manufactured and will be released as soon as permissions are obtained from the regulatory authorities for its use for the public. As stated by Dr Cyrus Poonawalla, founder of SII, to the media, another 60 million doses can be produced in the next 45 to 60 days
That’s not all. There are around 164 candidate Covid-19 vaccines in pre-clinical evaluation, 48 vaccines in the stage of clinical evaluation, of which about 11 are in the final stages of phase three testing, the final trial and testing stage.
So now it’s a matter of time before a variety of Covid-19 vaccines flood the market, but the advantage will lie with companies that hit the market first.
Since the vaccine will be available in the market in another two months or so, maybe less, the most important question is the pricing factor. US based Pfizer and BioNTech, also at an advanced stage of developing their vaccine, have announced an estimated price at $19, while Moderna, also US-based, says its price will be an estimated $25 to $37. These vaccines, however, will then be uneconomical for countries like India.
However, SII CEO Adar Poonawalla has stated that Covishield will be priced at around $3 a dose (approximately Rs 225) for the government and around $7 to $8 a dose (approximately Rs 600) for the general public in India.
Since the vaccine will be launched soon and the immunisation process is going to take a long time, the Indian government’s role will be vital in the areas of its procurement and distribution. Infrastructure has to be in place for its storage and transportation across the country, which is going to be a big challenge.
As demand will be huge in the first stage, the government should take command of its resources and act as an intermediary to procure the vaccine in bulk for rationing the same among the public. At whatever price it may procure the Oxford-AstroZeneca vaccine, the government has to provide it at a highly subsidised rate, which will not only bring immense relief to the public but also generate a lot of goodwill among the masses.
It has already been made clear that the vaccine will be reserved at the first stage for priority groups such as frontline health workers and emergency cases, including the elderly and a data bank of such persons has already been created.
The launch of the vaccine will not only save lives, but also give enough confidence to people to get out and about without fear of getting infected. It will also set the agenda for the economic, social and psychological reconstruction of the country.
India is in and advantageous position during the pandemic as companies like SII, Dr Reddy’s Laboratories and Bharat Biotech make it one of the world’s biggest vaccine makers. Bharat Biotech has the capacity to produce 500 million doses and the SII 800 million doses annually. Vaccines developed anywhere in the world, therefore, would need Indian manufacturers’ support for its production and distribution.
Everyone is now waiting eagerly for announcements of the Covid-19 launch, the new dawn in an era free of the pandemic.
The writer is a retired civil servant. Views expressed are personal