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Govt pins its hopes on in-country vaccine trials

Pfizer, Moderna vaccines may not arrive in large quantities to meet immediate demand, says NITI Aayog’s V K Paul.

Written by Kaunain Sheriff M | New Delhi | Updated: November 18, 2020 6:58:02 am
The battle to counter the pandemic dominated the first day of a virtual summit of Group of 20 nations on Saturday, hosted by Saudi Arabia.

Even as global firms Pfizer and Moderna have released interim results of the late-stage trial of their mRNA vaccine candidates for Covid-19, the Centre on Tuesday said doses of these vaccines will not be available in quantities that can fulfil India’s immediate requirement.

The government said it has pinned its hopes on the five vaccine candidates that are being clinically tested here.

Dr V K Paul, member, NITI Aayog, who heads the high-level national expert group on vaccine administration, on Tuesday made three significant remarks on the two promising vaccinates – Pfizer and Moderna – which have released interim data claiming over 90 per cent efficacy.

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First, while India is in talks with these global firms, at present no licence has been granted for commercial use by any regulator to these firms.

Second, even if these are granted approval, the doses will be delivered to countries that have already signed deals with these firms, and that doses of these vaccines are likely to arrive months later in India.

And third, the five vaccine candidates being tested in India, at present, will be able to fulfill the large domestic requirements.

“…The situation emerging outside the country, specifically the m-RNA vaccine developed by Moderna and Pfizer, is in public domain. We are watching it. These are interim results. The complete results are not out. No licence has been granted anywhere to them,” Paul said at the weekly briefing.

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“However, we also know that doses of this vaccine (Pfizer) will not be available in huge quantities that will fulfill our country’s requirement. We are watching this in all aspects. If this vaccine candidate has to come, and if we require it, we are preparing ourselves for whatever doses that might be provided. We have parallel alternate plans,” he said.

Paul said India’s current strategy, keeping in mind the requirement, is likely to fulfilled by the five vaccine candidates currently in clinical trials here. “… we have expectations that we will succeed in the five vaccine candidates being tested in India. Those are easy platforms. And the availability of doses (of these five vaccine candidates) is also extremely high. They can bring the pandemic under control. We have higher expectations from that end,” Paul said.


Why scaling up Pfizer vaccine is a hurdle

The Pfizer vaccine candidate that requires extreme cold storage will be a challenge. Of five vaccine candidates being tested in India, and Pfizer and Moderna, only the Pfizer candidate requires minus 70 degrees storage. This challenge of cold storage, NITI Aayog member Dr V K Paul says, will be a “huge hurdle in scaling up this vaccine. This is not easy for any country to develop such an extreme cold chain”. However, the government is examining what should be done if the Pfizer vaccine is introduced in the country, he says.

On the in-country vaccine trials, Paul said, “Currently, phase-3 of vaccine candidate tested by Serum Institute is almost complete and the follow-up is currently under way. Bharat Biotech has just begun the phase-3 trials; Zydus Cadila has completed phase-2 trials, and Russian Sputnik -V being tested in collaboration with Dr Reddy will begin phase two or three next week. Biological E is conducting an early phase 1-2 trial.”

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