Quickly adaptable vaccine platforms key as new variants emerge: NITI Aayog's VK Paul
Amid the looming threat of the Omicron (B.1.1.529) Covid-19 variant, NITI Aayog member for health Dr VK Paul on Tuesday said the country should have vaccine platforms that are “adaptable quickly” in view of the changing nature of the virus. He also warned against a situation that might emerge when vaccines may become less effective to fight the virus.
“There is a potential scenario that our vaccines may become ineffective in emerging situations. In the wake of the Omicron (in the last three weeks) we have seen how such doubts have come up,” he said.
“Therefore, there is a need for us, and I think that is a scientific underpinning for which there must be attention and resources and focus, that we have to be sure about having vaccine platforms that are adaptable quickly,” he further said.
“This is the possibility that we need to tweak for us to remain in the game, with changing nature of the variants remains valid. How soon can we create a vaccine which is using the same platform but is now targeted at the variant of the day,” he added. He made the remarks while addressing a summit by the industry body Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).
Further, he termed the global access to vaccines as a “core and fundamental” issue. “The foremost priority right now is to make sure that there is universal coverage of the vaccine and no one is left behind,” he said.
He also said the production of vaccines to meet global demand was still possible. “We have 3.6 billion people who are still not vaccinated. I guess they need 7.2 billion doses (of the vaccine) together and at the current rate of production, it is well within our grasp,” he said.
Noting that the development of drugs “will not go out of fashion” for the Covid-19 pandemic or the next potential pandemic, he said the pharmaceutical industry should press more towards developing drugs.
“Drug development will not go out of fashion for the next viral epidemic or pandemic that we may face and of course the antimicrobial resistance challenge is also crying for drug solutions. We should examine how and in which way our drug industry/pharmaceutical industry can have a roadmap and thinking and risk-taking attitude to move towards developing drugs,” he said.
Dr Paul said the previous pandemics could be localised because of the lack of travel a few decades ago but the current disease had a “devastating effect”. He also called upon the industry to invest more in science. He commented that the national investment in science in India was “all public money” and called upon the industry to create an ecosystem for more investments in science.
The senior doctor said non-pharmaceutical interventions such as facemasks, social distancing and other Covid-appropriate behaviours were critical in fighting the pandemic along with vaccines. “I think the emphasis on Covid-appropriate behaviour and such social interventions must also continue. Mask wearing has to become a habit,” he said.