As India holds its breath for the Covid vaccination to be begin, Sudhir Bisht provides a quick checklist of what you must know about the vaccines that will be administered to citizens.
As India's war against coronavirus receives a shot in its arm with the beginning of the vaccination campaign, I wanted to bring out the following 10 facts to the notice of our dear readers.
1. The name of one of the vaccines is Covaxin. It is developed by Bharat Biotech (or BB, a company that is listed in the stock exchange under the name and style of Bharat Immunologicals Biologicals Corporation) and the National Institute of Virology (NIV).
Bharat Biotech is headquartered in Hyderabad while NIV is based at Pune.
NIV functions under the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
ICMR is fully funded by the Government of India through its ministry of health and family welfare.
NIV employs some of the most brilliant scientists in the world. Many of these professionals work for the institute NOT for money, but for their love for their motherland. These scientists can join institutes in theUSA or Europe at x times the salary they draw currently but as they say, money cannot buy everything.
BB has supplied more than 3 billion vaccine doses (NOT related to Covid-19) around the world. It is headed by Dr Krishna Ella, who founded the company in 1996. Dr Ella is a PhD in molecular biology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has been a research faculty at the Medical University of South Carolina.
BB had earlier developed ChiroRab, an anti-rabies vaccine through its subsidiary Chirong Behrin Vaccines and is the world leader in this category.
2. The other Covid vaccine manufactured in India is not really developed in India. The manufacturer is the reputed Serum Institute of India, a company owned by the famous Poonawalla family of Pune.
This vaccine is developed by Oxford University and Astra Zeneca. Oxford University, as everyone knows, is arguably the most prestigious educational institution in the world and AstraZeneca Plc is a British-Swedish multinational pharmacy company headquartered in Cambridge.
The brand name of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca is Covishield.
SII and AstraZeneca have signed a contract wherein SII will manufacture over a billion doses of Covishield vaccine.
The Serum Institute in the past has supplied more than 1.5 billion vaccine doses (again not related to COVID-19) around the globe. It is headed by the dynamic CEO, Adar Poonawalla, who received his higher education from the University of Westminster.
3. The Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) is an independent authority under the Union government and is the sole authority to grant approval to any vaccine or drug in India. It is headed by the Drug Controller General of India (currently, Dr Venugopal G Somani).
CDSCO works under the Directorate General of Health Services, ministry of health and social services.
CDSCO has given approval for Covaxin and Covishield after testing the vaccines for immunogenicity and safety. The approval is for emergency use for now.
4. 'Immunogenicity' means the ability of the molecule to provoke an immune response or the strength or the magnitude of immune response. (Source: Siddhartha Mahanty, Antoine Prigent, and Olivier Garraud in their research article) (external link).
5. 'Safety' means the condition of being protected from a danger or threat.
6. Both Covaxin and Covishield pass the vital parameters of immunogenicity and safety.
A media report has quoted the DCGI as saying that both Covaxin and Covishield are '110% safe'.
7. The third parameter is efficacy, which means the ability to produce desired results.
As per a research article (external link): 'Vaccine efficacy refers to the ability of a vaccine to bring about the intended beneficial effects on vaccinated individuals in a defined population under ideal conditions of use.'
'The potential benefits of an effective vaccine -- promotion of health and well-being, and protection from illness and its physical, psychological and socioeconomic consequences -- must be weighed against the potential risk of an adverse event following immunization with that vaccine.'
'Vaccine-associated risk is the probability of an adverse or unwanted outcome occurring, and the severity of the resulting harm to the health of vaccinated individuals in a defined population following immunisation with a vaccine under ideal conditions of use.'
8. Covishield has already passed the efficacy test as it is found to be 70% efficacious, while the publication of results are awaited for Covaxin. The qualifying criteria for efficacy is 50% in many countries around the world.
9. Covaxin and Covishield are the best for our country which has poor refrigeration infrastructure. These vaccines don't require ultra low temperatures for storage. Both vaccines need storage temperature of 2 to 8 degree Celsius.
Both the vaccines are two-dose vaccines and their two-dose package will cost around Rs 350 to Rs 450 to the Government of India.
India plans to vaccinate at least 30o million Indians by July 2021.
10. It is a matter of pride that 100% Indian-origin Covaxin will soon be exported to Latin American countries. Precisa Medicamentos, a firm in Brazil, has signed a contract with Bharat Biotech in this regard.
Let's salute the efforts of the Serum Institute of India, Bharat Biotech, the National Institute of Virology and various institutions associated with Covishield and Covaxin.
Let the vaccination begin!
Sudhir Bisht, PhD, author and columnist, writes from New Delhi.