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Celebrate indigenous vaccine success, but strive to do better

The government has upgraded the emergency use authorization (EUA) to Covishield and Covaxin to regular use approval (Photo: HT)Premium
The government has upgraded the emergency use authorization (EUA) to Covishield and Covaxin to regular use approval (Photo: HT)

While India should celebrate the development of multiple Covid vaccines in India, we must also introspect the failure to carry out proper studies of the vaccines’ impact. All vaccines that specifically focus on the spike protein should be less efficacious than the inactivated whole virus vaccine from Bharat Biotech

Celebrate indigenous vaccine success, but strive to do better

Raise a toast to India’s vaccine development prowess. The government has upgraded the emergency use authorization (EUA) to Covishield and Covaxin to regular use approval. As a result, India has eight vaccines with approval for regular or emergency use. Of these, two have been developed by Indian companies. At a time, several pharma majors of the world tried and failed to develop their own covid19 vaccines — Merck, GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi, for example — it is creditable that two Indian companies have succeeded.

Bharat Biotech has developed Covaxin using what the company calls a Whole-Virion Inactivated Vero Cell-derived platform. In the layman’s language, it means that the vaccine is derived from an inactivated whole virus, rather than any particular protein of the virus, much like the traditional vaccines we are used to, such as the rabies of the polio vaccine. Bharat Biotech is ready to deliver a vaccine in the form of a nasal spray, which is still under clinical trials. Bharat Biotech has collaborated with the Indian Council of Medical Research and the National Institute of Virology to develop the vaccine.

Zydus Cadila has developed a DNA vaccine, ZyCov-D, that will be administered through a needleless injector developed by PharmaJet. The government has placed an order for 10 million doses.

Hyderabad-based Biological E is manufacturing the Corbevax vaccine, developed by two doctors at the Texas Children’s Hospital Centre for Vaccine Development at the Baylor College of Medicine, Texas, with some technical help from California-based Dynvavax Technologies. It is a recombinant DNA vaccine, just as the Novavax vaccine called Covovax in India is, and will encode the Coronavirus spike protein causing Covid. Corbevax comes without any patent rights and so is royalty-free. Astra Zeneca has also waived royalty on its vaccines (Covishield in India) sold in developing countries.

India has also given EUA to the Russian Sputnik, Moderna’s messenger RNA vaccine, Janssen’s (part of Johnson and Johnson) and Covovax, the Serum Institute’s version of the American Novavax vaccine.

The AstraZeneca, Sputnik and Janssen vaccines put a gene that can instruct the human body to produce the Coronavirus’s spike protein inside an inactivated adenovirus. The adenovirus serves as the vector for the gene that does the work of inducing the production of the spike protein to be administered inside the body. mRNA vaccines — Moderna and Pfizer-Biontech — are the least stable of the lot and require storage at ultra-low temperatures.

While India should celebrate the development of multiple Covid vaccines in India, we must also introspect the failure to carry out proper studies of the vaccines’ impact. Considering that the Omicron variant has undergone multiple mutations in the spike protein, all vaccines that specifically focus on the spike protein should be less efficacious than the inactivated whole virus vaccine from Bharat Biotech. But so far, no studies have been carried out on the relative efficacy of these different vaccines against Omicron.

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