More weapons in Covid-19 arsenal
India’s apex drug regulator on Tuesday approved two new Covid-19 vaccines and a pill for emergency use in the country. The vaccines, Covovax and Corbevax, are being made in India by two of the country’s pharma powerhouses, Serum Institute of India and Biological E, which are expected to churn out millions of doses a day. The antiviral drug, molnupiravir, is being produced by several Indian pharma companies after its developer Merck released the patent to the United Nation-led Medicines Patent Pool. The approval for the three products provides the biggest boost to India’s pandemic arsenal not seen since the first of the vaccines — Covishield and Covaxin — were cleared for use almost exactly a year ago because these, unlike most of the other vaccines and antivirals cleared for use, are likely to be available shortly.
The three products are some of the best science has offered the world in the last 24 months. Covovax and Corbevax are protein-based shots, using a technology that underpins some of the most widely used non-Covid-19 vaccines. Early trials in the case of Covovax (data for Corbevax is still awaited) has shown efficacy levels almost as high as the highly potent mRNA-based coronav-irus shots. Similarly, molnupiravir is a veritable breakthrough — it is one of only two antivirals proven to work against Covid-19. The pill needs to be taken at high doses as soon as possible after infection under a doctor’s guidance and, even though final clinical trial results were a little tepid, it has shown substantial benefit in improving disease outcomes.
The next steps will be for the administration to draw up clear guidelines and quickly allow access. First among these should be a decision on allowing the mixing of vaccines, an issue on which the government was silent even when it released guidelines for the next phase of the vaccination drive that begins on January 3. There is adequate scientific literature from the world over that has shown dose-mixing may provide a better immune response. Second, molnupiravir needs clear guidelines to avoid risky clinical use as was seen in the case of steroids. But most important, the government should move to secure supplies and ensure equitable nationwide distribution. These will be the tools with which we live with the virus, it is important to make them accessible as widely as possible.