It was very disappointing news today morning – the ‘Oxford’ vaccine trials being temporarily paused after a volunteer developed an unexplained illness. AstraZeneca, which licensed the vaccine from developers at the University of Oxford, said the pause will allow an independent committee to review safety data. This was the final phase where in the US, the company was aiming to enroll 30,000 people.
For all around the world, it was the ‘Oxford’ vaccine which holds the maximum hope as it ensures safety and the faith that it will be tested enough before they declare it good for humans across the world. Russia and China already have a vaccine and they are probably closer to getting it to people than Astrazeneca; yet their news produces no excitement – who in this world trusts anything when it comes to Russia and China?
In India, the need to have a vaccine is probably more urgent than anywhere else in the world, given the geometrical rise in numbers. Right from cities to the hinterland, corona seems to have spread its tentacles. But in this economics of vaccination, where it is being developed mostly by Western countries, we, along with Africa, Brazil and other Asian countries are right at the end of the queue. At the head of the line are the populations of the Western countries. They are, of course, the priority for their governments which funded the research in the first place. Ironically, it is these very ‘poor’ countries, at the end of the queue, where all the clinical trials are done, all hoping that because trails were done, they will be thrown some crumbs.
Where does that leave us, India, today? Well, we have our very own Bharat Biotech and it yesterday announced completion of Phase I and started on Phase II, conducted on 380 volunteers across India. It is expected that Bharat Biotech's vaccine may hit the markets by the end of the year after the completion of this second phase, provided the results turn out satisfactory.
Then there is an Oxford-based company, Spy Biotech, which has begun testing Novel virus-like particulate (VLP) vaccines for Covid-19 with its Indian partner company Serum Institute of India (SIIPL). The first and second phase of VLP testing has been completed. SIIPL also has an agreement with Astrazeneca for the same vaccination whose trial has been paused now.
So, we all are now hoping that Bharat Biotech manages to win this race and wears the crown – it will first and foremost ensure, we billion people will get the shot. Pride will come later.
But at the same time, it is important that scientists do not sacrifice scientific integrity for politics but follow the strict protocols for scientific research and production. Governments must put science over politics in the race to the vaccine.
At the end of it all – it’s imperative to understand that the vaccine is not a magical shot or bullet for the economy to bounce back and go back to where we began or how life was in 2019. That’s not going to happen any time soon. The climb up will be slow and painful – the same truth of life – climbing up is always very painful but falling down is quick and fast. Also, a vaccination takes time to become 100% effective as the sheer logistics of distribution, availability/supply of dosage will take time. Social distancing norms, fear and wariness to travel will remain till every person gets inoculated.
Thus any vaccine, whether it becomes available at the end of the year or by mid-2021, the economy will take time to get cured. Yes, it will mean at least the fear of corona will come to an end – that psychological booster is what we all need.