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2021: YEAR OF THE VACCINE?

If 2020 was the year of the pandemic, 2021 could turn out to be the year of the vaccine. Recently, Union health and family welfare minister Harsh Vardhan said India could have a vaccine by year-end. Three vaccine candidates are being tested currently in the country. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine Covishield, to be manufactured by Pune’s Serum Institute of India, is in combined phase 2 and 3 trials. Bharat Biotech-ICMR’s COVAXIN, the first indigenous covid-19 vaccine, and Zydus Cadila’s ZyCov-D, are in phase 2 trials.

WHY PHASE 3 TRIALS MATTER

According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) draft landscape of covid-19 candidate vaccines, 33 are in clinical evaluation right now. The most important stage is phase 3 trials, when the vaccine is given to thousands of volunteers to see if it can actually offer protection from the novel coronavirus. These trials try to identify side effects that may have been missed out in the earlier phases. According to The New York Times Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker, nine vaccines are in large-scale phase 3 efficacy trials.

JUMPING THE QUEUE

Two vaccines in China and one in Russia have been given approval for limited use and early use, respectively. On 30 August, the US too announced that it would consider “fast-tracking" the approval process to finalize a vaccine. The head of WHO’s emergencies programme, Mike Ryan, says this would need “intensive monitoring"—move too quickly to vaccinate millions, and “you may miss certain adverse effects".

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Photo: Getty Images


HOW MANY DOSES DO WE NEED?

Vaccine development can take years. But such is the urgency when it comes to checking the spread of covid-19 that manufacturers around the world have already started speeding up parts of the production process to save time when a vaccine candidate is finalized. At present, around 172 countries are working with the COVAX Global Vaccines Facility, WHO’s covid-19 vaccine programme, which aims to deliver two billion doses by the end of next year to all participating countries, in proportion to their population. WHO GETS IT FIRST?

Some wealthy nations have pre-ordered more than two billion doses. In August, the US pre-ordered 800 million doses of six vaccines that are in development. The UK has signed a deal with US company Novavax and Belgian firm Janssen to procure 90 million doses—taking its potential stockpile to around 340 million doses. A Reuters report says Japan too has booked 250 million doses from firms such as AstraZeneca, Pfizer and BioNTech. The scramble could leave low- and middle-income countries struggling.

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