With South Africa returning the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine because of its low efficacy in dealing with the new strain of the virus that has emerged in the country, the race is on for a vaccine that can deal with multiple strains of the virus. It is, therefore, critical that India step up its vaccine development efforts. It is not just vaccines that India must focus on. The World Health Organisation has declared that Covid is likely to become endemic, so India must begin working on developing drugs to deal with the disease.
Covaxin, the Covid vaccine developed by Bharat Biotech, was given emergency authorisation for use because it could, on account of it being a whole virus vaccine, rather than based on virus proteins, be effective against the new strain of the virus that was emerging in the UK. Given that new strains of the virus are emerging, it is important to determine Covaxin’s efficacy in this context, through tailor-made trials, right away, if necessary in South Africa and Brazil, leveraging India’s ties with these countries. The results must be published as they become available, so as not to lose time in wide expert assessment. It would make sense for vaccines that are under development (in preclinical and clinical trial), too, to take the mutations of the virus into consideration. This will help India to transition from being the world’s major manufacturer of vaccines and generic drugs to being a developer and manufacturer. The Covid pandemic and the push to develop a vaccine has given impetus to the Indian biotech and pharma sector.
Scientists warn that the Covid pandemic is unlikely to be a one-off event. Part of preparedness is building a robust ecosystem for developing cures. Now, India needs to leverage this momentum to build up domestic drug and vaccine companies rather than simply serving as a development hub for foreign pharma and biotech companies. This is an opportunity to act on the idea of local for global. The move will also give a boost to developing the ecosystem for research and development.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Economic Times.
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