COVID-19 caused by SARS-COV-2 ( Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2), also known as Novel Coronavirus, is a global pandemic now. This Coronavirus has inflicted heavy damage to human life. ( More than 7.5 million infected and more than 0.4 million dead as of on 12 June 2020). There is an apprehension that COVID-19 could hit in waves over the next two years. Given the health, social and economic consequences, there is a global race underway to develop and mass-produce an effective vaccine against this disease. Currently, 150 vaccines are being produced by big and small pharmaceutical and Biotechnology companies including the giants like Pfizer, Glaxo Smith Kline ( GSK), Inovio, Johnson and Johnson, Novavax Inc, Sanofi, BioNTech and others. It’s being reported that the accelerated pace at which the researchers are currently working, some of the companies can make available COVID-19 vaccines in 12- 18 months, which according to an expert vaccinologist ” is not impossible but certainly ambitious”.
Vaccines help prevent diseases by boosting humans natural immune response against a microbe that they have not encountered before.
There are three broad categories of vaccines in development for COVID-19:
- Traditional killed or live attenuated virus vaccines
- Protein-based vaccines &
- Gene-based vaccines
Researchers first develop a potential vaccine candidate. This is followed by preclinical trials in laboratory animals to investigate whether the candidate vaccine induces an efficient immune response to the virus and whether it causes side effects. Then begins the human clinical trials in three phases. In phase I, a small number of human volunteers are given the vaccine to investigate the human immune response and safety of the vaccine. In phase II, hundreds of human volunteers are given the vaccine to determine optimal vaccine composition, dose and vaccination schedule. The phase III involves thousands of volunteers and provide data on how good the vaccine is at preventing infection and also on undesired medical effects.
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Out of 150 candidate vaccines being developed for COVID-19, 10 have entered human clinical trials stage and the rest are in preclinical trials stage. Among the front runners currently in human trials are COVID-19 vaccines being developed by Astra Zeneca, Pfizer, BioNTech, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Moderna, Sanofi and China’s Can Sino Biologics. Moderna, USA will start a trial of 30,000 volunteers of Coronavirus vaccine in July 2020.
Astra Zeneca has struck a global licensing deal with Oxford University, UK and would be able to provide 30 million vaccine doses in the UK and 70 million doses worldwide by September 2020, if the trials yield vaccines. Moderna and Swiss LONZA have announced a deal to manufacture one billion doses a year of potential COVID-19 vaccine. Britain’s Astra Zeneca has agreed to terms with Serum Institute of India, Pune to supply one billion doses for low and middle-income countries.
The sole purpose of the world in making the vaccines is to get rid of COVID-19 pandemic, this will be achieved only when all those who need it get it. If it doesn’t happen…. say, for example, if any financially poor country finds itself unable to provide vaccines to COVID-19 patients because of its financial inability, then there still remains a threat of COVID-19 to the rest of the world. This has happened earlier in 2009 when the world was fighting against 2009 H1N1 pandemic ( Swine flu), the vaccines developed for this disease were mostly made available to the rich countries. But this time the threat of COVID-19 is of different nature which calls for global collective actions which must be focussed on manufacturing and distributing the vaccines at the scale needed to tackle this pandemic. In line with this various global organization such as Gavi-The Vaccine Alliance, CEPI( Coalition of Epidemic Preparedness Innovations), WHO and Global Governments have come together.
According to CEPI, an investment of at least US$ 2 billion is required for developing at least three vaccines in the next 12–18 months. COVID-19 Vaccine Development Task Force launched by CEPI is now working on how to finance and manufacture vaccines for global access. The International Finance Facility for Immunization (IFFIm), which supports Gavi The Vaccine Alliance, raises funds with Vaccine Bonds could be put to work to raise funds for COVID-19 vaccines.
Although efforts are being made by world organizations, funding agencies and philanthropists for the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, as of now there is no concrete plan to implement it.
By Dr Aqueel Khan
Professor & Head (Retd.), University Teaching Department Of Biochemistry, RTM Nagpur University, Nagpur