COVID Vaccine: Facts vs Rhetoric

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The number of COVID cases are increasing alarmingly in our country with more than 42000 deaths occurring in the last 6 months, till date and on an average 1000 patients succumbing to it every day. There are no specific drugs which have been shown to prevent it and several reports showing futility of plasma therapy. The treatment of COVID continues to be suboptimal with drug after drug showing disappointing results in terms of mortality reduction. Development of a vaccine is therefore being explored with lot of enthusiasm and hope but a premature hype. We certainly need an early breakthrough for  an effective and a safe vaccine based on good scientific research and not a political rhetoric, an art at which we are quite adept.

Vaccination is a simple, safe, and effective way of protecting people against harmful diseases, before they come into contact with them. We now have vaccines to prevent more than 20 life-threatening diseases, helping people of all ages live longer, healthier lives. It makes the body’s systems immune to get infections against the disease for which it has been done. The term vaccine, is related to Edward Jenner to denote cowpox ,Variolae vaccinae ,which he discovered in 1798 and used for small pox prevention and the word was  extended to cover all the protective inoculations as an honour to him in 1881 by Louis Pasteur. The word has stayed on since then.

The process from conceptualizing to making a safe and effective vaccine has several stages of development. Phase 1 and 2 are early pre-clinical phases followed by phase 3, in which the research product is given to a large population for evaluating safety and efficacy, stringently cannot be abbreviated and is time consuming. There are more than 100, COVID-19 vaccines in different phases of development. One of the most promising one the Oxford vaccine has just entered the 3rd phase and seems promising but cannot be expected for general use in less than one year from now before going for regulatory approvals.

On the other hand we also hear about a Russian vaccine which according to their health minister has completed clinical trials and is seeking regulatory approval which have been taken for granted. An announcement of a launch as a massive vaccination program in October this year has already been made. This is despite the fact that their own reports had said that it had entered phase 2 only in July. This indicates bypassing the all-important Phase 3, which is time consuming and in which clinical and not a bio-immune response has to be confirmed. Similar reservations are being expressed for the Chinese vaccine, which again seems to be around the corner.

Likewise, very senior responsible persons in our government bodies are giving a date of launch coinciding with our Independence Day. It is a precocious statement. This raises a pre mature hype leading to people becoming complacent in preventive measures. The numbers in our country have already crossed a 2 million mark with an addition of more than 60,000 cases per day. This is very alarming.

Zydus Cadila of India is working with 2 COVID vaccines, using different concepts. Both are in very early stages. The Serum Institute of India, one of the largest manufacturers of vaccines worldwide is partnering with Codagenix and also with Oxford vaccine makers which are in pre-clinical trials and plan to announce its availability by the end of 2021 at the earliest.

With the pandemic showing no signs of abating, we do really need an early breakthrough in the form of an effective and safe vaccine but not a political rhetoric. The effective vaccine cannot come at will on a pre-determined date. We need to understand this and patiently wait for at least for a minimum of one more year.

Author is a Cardiologist, recipient of Padmashiri and Dr B C Roy Award ­­