It’s time to speed up vaccine production
After the prolonged wait and mixed signals, the World Health Organization’s approval of the indigenous Covid-19 vaccine, Covaxin, brings much-needed relief and reflects global recognition of the scientific prowess and research credentials of the world. ‘India. More importantly, it paves the way for its wide distribution around the world and improves the chances of the company’s vaccine for children – for the age group 2-18 – although this will need to be evaluated separately. The development also brings joy to those who wait to travel abroad. Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech, which developed the vaccine in coordination with the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR), should rightly be proud of this development. The long wait, repeated data requests, wild speculation and even conspiracy theories involving global pharmaceutical giants had marred the approval process. Previously, there had been criticism that the Indian government had been in excessive haste in granting emergency use approval for the desi vaccine. With the green signal from WHO, the company must now increase production to help expand vaccine coverage. Covaxin becomes the seventh vaccine to achieve WHO recognition for the emergency use list. This would mean the end of the travel ban for those who had taken the homemade vaccine. In addition, they are not required to self-quarantine when they arrive abroad. India secures a seat on the high table among the select few countries that manufacture and export Covid vaccines as approval clears all barriers. To meet the imminent sharp increase in global demand, the pharmaceutical major will have to increase its production. The first indigenous Covid-19 vaccine was approved for use in India under emergency use authorization in January this year. But in the absence of an Emergency Use License (EUL) by the WHO, it was not considered valid by many countries.
Although it gained a good reputation in the global market with a portfolio of 16 vaccines and exports to 123 countries, Bharat Biotech was caught in a controversy when the government granted an emergency use authorization without waiting for the data from third-phase clinical trials. This has led experts to question the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. In addition, the company was unable to meet the promised production schedules. Much of India’s vaccine needs are met by the Serum Institute of India’s Covishield. Covaxin accounts for just 11% of all doses that have been administered in India so far. However, the opportunities and challenges now present themselves to the company. The WHO approval paves the way for the inclusion of Covaxin on the COVAX platform which is used to distribute vaccines in low- and middle-income countries where very few Covid-19 vaccines are currently available. COVAX is managed by WHO with a few other international agencies to ensure equitable and affordable distribution of vaccines. The recognition gives a boost to the use of Covaxin among the younger population. It was recently approved in India after successful testing.