EVEN as multiple States opt for the lockdown mode to contain rising coronavirus cases in what is being termed as the second wave of the pandemic, a ray of hope is on the horizon with the positive results from clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccines. After Pfizer and Moderna claimed almost 95 per cent success in their vaccine trials, another major player in the business, Oxford AstraZeneca, has said its vaccine has shown efficacy of around 90 per cent in interim analysis of clinical trials.
This is a timely cheer for all the affected countries in their fight against the tiny virus that has held the world to ransom for last eight months. Oxford AstraZeneca’s AZD1222 vaccine has showed an average efficacy of 70 per cent in a combined analysis of two doses. The first half dose gave results of 90 per cent while the second full dose administered a month apart showed 62 per cent efficacy. The significant part of the combined analysis is that a combination of a lower dose and a higher dose actually brought about a higher efficacy. This is a good news for countries like India with large population as more people can be vaccinated using the same limited supply. With three potential vaccines about to enter the market the focus shifts on their availability, pricing and related facilities needed for storage.
The Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine holds big promise for India for its cost effectiveness as well as easy storage requirements. The one made by Pfizer needs to be kept in minus 70 degrees Celsius, which is colder than winter in Antarctica. Moderna’s vaccine needs to be frozen too at minus 20 Celsius. However, the Oxford vaccine can be stored, transported and handled at normal refrigerated conditions of 2 to 8 degrees Celsius for at least six months. Moreover, it can be administered in existing healthcare setting available in India. The vaccines now need to be registered in Emergency Use Listing from the World Health Organisation as the coronavirus situation threatens to spiral out of hand in the winter months. Sudden surge in positive cases in various States which had registered considerable drop in patients in the last two months has necessitated the need for early use of a potent vaccine. To its good fortune, India is sitting at a comfortable level as far as coronavirus vaccine is concerned.
Apart from Oxford AstraZeneca’s vaccine manufactured by Pune-based Serum Institute, two more doses are in the pipeline in the form of the indigenously developed inactivated vaccine, Covaxin, in partnership between Indian Council of Medical Research and the Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech and a DNA vaccine from Ahmedabad-based Zydus Cadila, called ZyCov-D. The vaccines will be in the market soon and the Government now needs to move its machinery to make it available in every corner of the country at rates affordable to every class of the society.
The Oxford vaccine is said to be in the category of Rs 300 to Rs 500 which makes it imperative for the company to scale up production as it will be in heavy demand even in India’s neighbourhood. This aspect is going to test the capabilities of the industry and also the Government’s healthcare machinery which is required to regulate the flow of the doses as per a predecided priority list. Initial reports suggest that the Government has marked one crore frontline workers for first doses.
Next beneficiaries must come through proper scanning of the hotspots and detailed feedback from the local healthcare authorities. While the authorities draw up their strategy for distribution of the vaccine, people also need to behave responsibly so that the situation remains in check. The news of availability of vaccine should not be taken as a licence to relax and get complacent. Present spike in positive cases is a direct result of people lowering their guard in wake of a good situation. The danger is not over yet. In fact, no one knows when life would be at the old normal in the near future. Till then, precaution remains the only weapon to defeat the virus.