India may get a Covid-19 vaccine by March 2021, provided regulators give signals fast, “as multiple manufacturers are working on it”, according to Dr Suresh Jadhav, executive director of the Serum Institute of India, which is testing the Oxford -AstraZeneca vaccine candidate in the country.
He told The Indian Express that India is heading fast towards vaccine development, as two manufacturers are already in phase-3 trial and one in the phase-2 trial, and more players are joining the race.
Stating that there are “ups and downs in any vaccine clinical trial”, Dr Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist at the World Health Organization, also said a vaccine against Covid-19 should be ready by the second quarter of next year. She told The Indian Express, “By January 2021 we should be able to see results, and by the second quarter of 2021 the vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 should be ready.”
Dr Swaminathan, however, reiterated the WHO’s stance against allowing the virus to spread unchecked to reach herd immunity, emphasising that the concept should be discussed only within the context of a vaccine. She told The Indian Express that once there is a vaccine one can aim to have herd immunity – as there will be a need to vaccinate at least 70 per cent people and have them protected to break the transmission.
Addressing the India Vaccine Accessibility e-Summit, Dr Jadhav said, “We can produce 700-800 million vaccine doses every year once things are streamlined. Although 55 per cent of the population is below 50 years of age, as per availability of vaccines healthcare workers should get the vaccines first, then people over 60 years with comorbidities, followed by the rest of the populace.”
As far as Serum Institute is concerned, he said, “We will be ready with 60-70 million dosages of vaccines by December 2020, but that will come in the market in 2021 after the clearance of licencing. Thereafter, we will produce more and more dosages, with the government’s permission.”
Speaking at the same event, Prof Bejon Kumar Misra, international consumer policy expert, said it is important that the vaccine is thoroughly tested before rollout.
Samir Deb, pharmaceutical professional, consultant vaccine and public affairs consultant, Southeast Asia, said, “Proven success factors of H1N1 and Ebola have turned out guiding principles in Covid-19 vaccine development.”
Dr Jadhav said, “Vaccine development takes eight to 10 years, but this is the third time we are able to produce this one in a short time. The WHO has also taken initiative to make the process fast and easy.”
On herd immunity, Dr Swaminathan told The Indian Express: “It is not a good idea to try to achieve herd immunity by letting the infection run wild in the population. We need to talk in terms of a vaccine; we need to vaccinate enough people – with a vaccine one can achieve immunity and herd immunity safely. Through natural infection it (herd immunity) can be achieved, but it will be at a great human cost.”
She also said that there are “actions that we can take to slow down transmission via public health measures, and also ensure enough testing, isolating and contract tracing is done to ensure that lives are saved”.