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No Covid vaccine appears possible before next year, House panel told

The officials, it was learnt, told the committee that a vaccine will be available commercially in India only in early 2021.

The ICMR had earlier this month envisaged the “launch” of a Covid vaccine for “public health use latest by August 15”.

Notwithstanding the ICMR’s ambitious timeline to produce a Covid vaccine, officials and scientists from CSIR, the Department of Science and Technology and Department of Biotechnology on Friday told a Parliament panel that no vaccine appears possible before early next year, it was learnt.

Officials from these government science and technology departments and K VijayRaghavan, Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India, briefed the members of the Parliament Standing Committee on Science and Technology and gave presentations on the government’s preparedness for Covid-19 including on topics like vaccines, drugs and pharmaceuticals and health equipment.

Read| Explained: The drugs India is fighting Covid-19 with

Only six of the 30 members attended the meeting.

Committee chairman Jairam Ramesh had written to Rajya Sabha chairman M Venkaiah Naidu thrice in the last three months requesting that the panel be allowed to meet virtually, given the restrictions on movement due to the pandemic.(Read in Malayalam and Tamil here)

“Our Standing Committee did not have a quorum today, but it certainly had decorum. I thank all fellow committee members across party lines who attended the meeting under tough circumstances and the officials who enriched the process. Our democracy is strengthened by such interactions,” Ramesh said after the meeting.

The officials, it was learnt, told the committee that a vaccine will be available commercially in India only in early 2021. It could be a vaccine developed and manufactured domestically or developed elsewhere and manufactured in India. The committee felt the departments and bodies should focus on developing low-cost medical devices, like ventilators costing under Rs 30,000, pointing out that health security is as critical as defence security.

The ICMR had earlier this month envisaged the “launch” of a Covid vaccine for “public health use latest by August 15”. The August 15 timeline was mentioned in a letter that ICMR director general Balram Bhargava wrote to the 12 hospitals selected for carrying out clinical trials of Covaxin, a candidate vaccine developed by Bharat Biotech in partnership with Pune-based National Institute of Virology, an ICMR laboratory. Some top scientists and medical experts called the timeline “unreasonable” and “absurd”. The ICMR later clarified that its letter “was meant to cut unnecessary red tape”.

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