Six months into the coronavirus pandemic, scientists across the world are racing to create a vaccine to treat the virus. One such potential vaccine is being tested by a team of researchers at the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca, a global, science-led biopharmaceutical company. After successful trials in phase 1 and 2, the vaccine is currently moving to phase 3 of the trials.
The vaccine, named 'Covidshield', is set to be mass-produced by Serum Institute of India (SII), the largest vaccine manufacturer in the world. SII has committed to producing one billion doses, of which it has pledged half to India. When speaking to the press at the end of July, Adar Poonawalla, chief executive officer of SII had said that they hope to deliver the vaccines by the end of December this year.
“We will be going for large scale manufacturing in mid-August-early-August… By the end of this year, we should be able to produce 3 to 4 million doses come end of December. That’s the target and I hope we can do that,” Poonawalla had said in an interview to a news channel.
But is the vaccine still expected by December? How many doses will we need and what would be its cost? Let's dig deeper.
According to reports, Poonawalla is yet to announce exactly how much each dose of the vaccine will cost, but he told the press that it will be 'affordable'. He also added that the vaccines are most likely to be free for citizens as the government might purchase them.
“We are going to give it at a very affordable price… We are planning to put it at about Rs 1,000 or less than that… I don’t think any citizen of India or of any other country is going to have to pay for it because it is going to be bought by the government and distributed free,” he told the media in July.
“It is going to be very affordable… in line with our general philosophy of giving everything at a very affordable price. We generally don’t want to make a profit at all, in fact, in the COVID crisis and after the pandemic is over, we may look at a more commercial price that could be available in the market,” he added.
Last week, the final phase of the coronavirus vaccine trials by Oxford was temporarily put on hold, after a participant had a suspected adverse reaction, reported the BBC. According to the reports, one volunteer in the UK trial had been diagnosed with transverse myelitis, an inflammatory syndrome that affects the spinal cord and can be caused by viral infections. As a result, the Serum Institute of India also paused their trials as it was issued a show-cause notice by the Drug Controller of India.
However, on Sunday it was reported that the trials have resumed as the university said the vaccine had been deemed safe to continue. The university said in a statement that it was "expected" that "some participants will become unwell" in large trials such as this one.
It is still unknown when the SII will get the green light to resume trials in India.
While Minister of Health and Family Welfare Harsh Vardhan announced yesterday that a vaccine against the coronavirus disease would be ready by early next year, Adar Poonawalla gave the world a reality check. While politicians continue to be overly-optimistic, Poonawalla has warned that there won’t be enough vaccines against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) for everyone in the world till the end of 2024.
Poonawalla has estimated that the world will need around 15 billion doses of the COVID-19 shot if it is a two-dose vaccine. Speaking to The Financial Times, he said, "It’s going to take four to five years until everyone gets the vaccine on this planet."
“I know the world wants to be optimistic on it... [but] I have not heard of anyone coming even close to that [level] right now,” he added.
It has become clear that there is still no definitive date on when the vaccine will be delivered. It's important to keep in mind that vaccines usually take years to be produced, and scientists across the world are, figuratively speaking, working on a miracle cure.
So while we hope a vaccine is available in our near future, we wouldn't have a clear picture till the trials are fully concluded. Until then, our best bet is to continue to practice social distancing, step out only if we must, and ALWAYS wear a mask.
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