Sanjeev Sharma (IANS)- In an exclusive interview with IANS, Adar Poonawalla, Chief Executive Officer, Serum Institute of India (SII), has said that SII has associated with US-based biotechnology firm Codagenix and developed a virus-vaccine candidate which is closest to the novel coronavirus. According to Poonawalla, human trials of the vaccine are expected to commence by September-October.
Here are excerpts from the IANS exclusive interview:
Q: What is the progress on the vaccine that SII is developing for COVID-19 and what is the trial stage timeline for the same?
A: Our aim has been to make the vaccine available at the earliest to address the novel coronavirus outbreak. Following that, we recently associated with US-based Codagenix and have developed a virus-vaccine candidate that is closest to the novel coronavirus. We have commenced animal trials on mice and primates, which have been efficacious; and we are expecting to progress to human trials by September or October of this year.
Q: How do you see the COVID-19 trajectory in India till now?
A: Through the nationwide lockdown and rampant health advisories spread across the length and breadth of the country, we have done a commendable job in containing the spread of the virus. However, the trajectory needs to slow down further. The next few months are extremely crucial for our country. We need to use this time in strengthening our healthcare infrastructure to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
Q: What are your views on developing herd immunity against the COVID-19 virus?
A: The term ï¿½herd immunity’ has been making rounds since the initial phases of the pandemic. In simple terms, it is when most of the population develops immunity against the disease by way of vaccination or immunization caused by acquiring the disease and developing anti-bodies via exposures in the past. In order for it to be implemented, we need to have an efficacious vaccine available for mass use; since the data for relapse is insignificant at the moment, we cannot be dependent on developing herd immunity at this stage.
Q: How effective is the lockdown to mitigate this? How long should the lockdown continue in India?
A: The lockdown is extremely effective in containing the spread of coronavirus. The next few months will require all of us to practice social distancing as that is the most efficient intervention available presently. Breaking the chain of transmission holds the priority as it gives a chance to the more vulnerable population a chance at survival and reduces the pressure on the hospitals. However, I do hope that post this lockdown, the government will start lifting restrictions across businesses. Otherwise more people will suffer because of bankruptcy and stress than COVID-19.
Q: What should be the strategy to combat COVID-19?
A: Ideally, we should focus on the strict and compulsory implementation of social distancing norms even after the lockdown is lifted. The next key step should be to re-establish the economy. Additionally, we need to focus our attention on building a robust and viable testing system along with the necessary equipment, while also enabling fast-tracking of processing and approvals for quick distribution of necessary medical supplies, especially vaccines and other medications.