COVID-19 vaccine will be ready only by early 2021


As soon as the Parliamentary standing committees started to resume work after a long spell of hibernation, it was not all good news that came in front of them. Notwithstanding the ambitious target set for its market launch, the Standing Committee on Science and Technology was told on Friday that India will have to wait till at least the first quarter of 2021 to get its vaccine that can treat Covid-19.

Officials cautioned that this is the earliest possible time frame when India can practically have its vaccine.

Professor Krishnaswamy Vijay Raghavan, who is the government’s Principal Scientific Advisor, was present in the committee meeting along with representatives from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the Department of Science and Technology and the Department of Biotechnology.

Interestingly, this development comes closely on the heels of India’s foremost medical research body, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), in a letter dated July 3, setting a target to get the vaccine ready by August 15. However, faced with criticism for putting unrealistic pressure, it later clarified saying it was “meant to cut unnecessary red tape, without bypassing any necessary process, and speed up recruitment of participants”.

Senior officials told the Parliamentary committee led by Congress MP Jairam Ramesh on Friday that they are hopeful and optimistic about India’s chances of inventing the vaccine that will be able to treat the deadly Covid-19.

During the proceedings of the committee, certain members were believed to have raised specific questions about recent claims made by yoga guru Ramdev who launched Coronil, claiming it can treat coronavirus, only to retract later. However, the Union AYUSH ministry, after a review, has given permission to Patanjali to sell Coronil as an immunity booster, and not a cure.

In another new finding, it was reported that a tuberculosis vaccine may limit Covid-19 deaths. A vaccine routinely given to children in countries with high rates of that bacterial disease might be helping to reduce deaths from Covid-19, researchers reported on Thursday. The findings were published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Meanwhile, researchers in India are all set to start human trials of India’s first indigenous coronavirus vaccine candidate – COVAXIN, which has just started phase I of its human trials.

The advanced deadline by the medical board was much debated by doctors, vaccine makers and other scientists for being “too risky” and was even labeled as a political move.

Oxford University-Astrazeneca backed vaccine model is currently in the middle of its phase II-III study and has shown promising results in the pre-clinical and early trials of its prototype. It is being said that the vaccine, one of the first to enter the human clinical trial phase will be the first to enter the market if approvals are met in time.

Under the pact signed with British-Swedish pharma maker AstraZeneca, Serum Institute will supply 1 billion doses of the vaccine in India and other low and middle-income countries, with a commitment to provide 400 million before the end of 2020.

While many of the trials sound promising, there is no telling when the real vaccine will be ready and how it will be distributed and made available to rest of the country. The cases in India are now surging with new rage and without a sign of a vaccine in sight, doctors are finding alternative ways to keep the hope alive.