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ICMR director-general Dr Balram Bhargava
ICMR director-general Dr Balram Bhargava

Bharat Biotech's Covaxin may have some advantages over other vaccines: ICMR chief on new Covid strain

  • AIIMS chief Dr Randeep Guleria too has said that Bharat Biotech vaccine will be a back-up or for emergency use
  • However, concerns have been raised over approval of permission for the restricted use of Covaxin without its phase 3 trials

The director-general of the Indian Council of Medical Research said on Sunday that the Bharat Biotech's Covaxin may have some advantages over other vaccines on its effect over the new variant of coronavirus recently discovered in the UK.

Dr Balram Bhargava's statement came on the day the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) approved the Oxford coronavirus vaccine and Bharat Biotech's Covaxin for immediate use.

"NIV scientists have successfully isolated the new virus strain and this will be tested against different vaccines. We hope potentially Bharat Biotech vaccine will have some advantages over other vaccines on this new strain," said Bhargava as the country has detected 29 patients of the new variant.

"New virus variant which is now more than 60% infective and creating havoc in the UK is worrisome. There are 29 patients in India with the same variant for which we should be cautious," he added.

Bhargava's hope stems from the fact that Covaxin is a whole virion inactivated Covid-19 vaccine, which produces surface spike protein priming the immune system to attack the SARS-CoV-2 virus if it later infects the body.

AIIMS chief Dr Randeep Guleria too has said that Bharat Biotech vaccine will be a back-up or for emergency use where the effectiveness of the Oxford vaccine is not certain.

“We don’t know for how long a vaccine is going to be effective, we don’t know how much of the population we will have to vaccinate to break the virus transmission. What we know is that we have been able to control the pandemic in the country by following Covid appropriate behaviour," Bhargava told ANI.

Criticism of approval

Hours after the DGCI nod to Covaxin, questions were raised over approval of permission for the restricted use of Covaxin without its phase 3 trials.

Congress leaders asked the government to explain why mandatory protocols and verification of data has been dispensed with and warned the approval was "premature".

Party leader Anand Sharma, who heads the Parliamentary panel on Home Affairs which dealt with the issue at length, said the issue of granting authorisation to Bharat Biotech's vaccine needs to be taken carefully as no country has dispensed with the mandatory phase 3 trials and verification of data.

As per submissions made before the expert panel, phase 3 trials have not been completed and therefore, the data on safety and efficacy has not been reviewed, which is a mandatory requirement, he said.

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor also expressed apprehensions over approval to Covaxin, saying it has not yet had phase 3 trials.

"The Covaxin has not yet had Phase 3 trials. Approval was premature and could be dangerous.

The DGCI has, however, said that the vaccine has been found effective in its non-human and human trials so far.

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