At present, the entire globe is grappled in tight clutches of COVID-19. The virus has disrupted the natural functioning of the Society. Severe lockdowns, a gagged healthcare system, the incessant death toll, and economic stagnation portray a world choked by the virus. Social Distancing, regular sanitization, and wearing masks have emerged as the new normal.
In present times there is no authentic cure available for COVID-19. Though several drugs like ‘Remdesivir’ and ‘favipiravir’ and medications like convalescent plasma therapy are being used for treating Covid patients their success rate has been limited largely to non-critical cases.
The world now needs a potential and reliable vaccine that could deal effectively with the virus especially in high-risk cases and can provide a sigh of relief to the Nations plagued by the unabating death toll and economic torpidity.
In the last few months, Scientists and researchers around the globe have engaged in the development of vaccines for treating COVID-19. Several nations are trying to generate a potential vaccine and they are also keeping track of vaccines being developed by other countries as well. Various alliances have also been formed for providing financial aid in order to facilitate the smooth and expeditious development of Vaccines. Currently, various vaccines are undergoing trials for their efficacy, and results are eagerly awaited by all.
COMMENCEMENT OF THE RACE
Back in January this year, China had publicly shared the full RNA sequence of the coronavirus; therefore kick-starting the global race to develop a vaccine. Numerous methods and procedures are being tried for the development of vaccines. Traditionally, vaccines are manufactured either as inactivated, live attenuated, or subunit, but many institutions and manufacturers are trying next generation techniques. It is expected that the first RNA vaccine may find a place in the history of vaccine development as a successful agent for the prevention of Covid-19. Besides this, DNA, vector-based RNA, subunit, and many other variants of RNA technologies are undergoing trial in the making of a potential vaccine.
Also, the Global Alliance for vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) have emanated as two potential vaccine alliances.
While GAVI is raising funds so that the immunization drive against COVID-19 could reach children in the poorest nations of the world, CEPI’s motto is to develop vaccines against the SARS-CoV-2 virus from donations received from the public, private, philanthropic, and civil society organizations. Apart from them, there are several other health organization programs working in the same direction.
As of July, the data shared by WHO stated that there were 24 candidate vaccines which were in advanced stages of development and another 142 were in preclinical stages. All the following 24 candidate vaccines were either in Phase 1, 2, or 3 clinical trial stages. Most of these vaccines are being developed in the USA, Europe, and China.
In India there are two candidate vaccines (Bharat Biotech and Zydus Cadila) which are in advanced stages of development and another manufacturing company (Serum Institute of India), in collaboration with Oxford University and Astra Zeneca is also developing a Vaccine titled ‘Covishield’.
At present 48 candidate vaccines are in advanced stage of development while 164 candidate vaccines are in preclinical stages according to the data shared by WHO. Thus, we have a good number of vaccine candidates that have entered into the advance phase and this indicates that we can expect a potential vaccine possibly at the end of this year or surely by the starting of the next year if nothing goes wrong in the trials.
As of now, Pharmaceutical firms Pfizer and Moderna have announced successful late-stage trials of their respective vaccine candidates. Pfizer which is co-developing the vaccine with the German company BioNTech claims that its vaccine is 95% effective while Moderna, a US drug-maker claims efficacy of 94.5% for its vaccine candidate.
Pfizer and Moderna plan to apply for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the end of November 2020. Barring any unforeseen delays, public health experts expect the vaccines to receive EUA by early 2021. Together, these two companies are expected to be able to provide 50-60 million doses by the end of this year and two billion or more doses by the end of 2021.
The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna announcements signify remarkable milestones as they achieved the extraordinary feat within a year of the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, other firms are also working in high spirits after the promising results shown by Pfizer and Moderna and one can hope for more vaccine with high efficiency in the coming days.
A HURDLE RACE
Even after a potential vaccine is introduced and is approved for inoculation then also their exist certain hurdles to be crossed to gain control over the raging pandemic.
The first obstacle is the absence of a proper and well maintained large scale cold chain infrastructure. Usually, vaccines require a very low temperature to keep them in working condition, in some cases even below freezing point. For example, in the case of Moderna, the prescribed temperature for shipping of vaccine is -20 degree Celsius while for Pfizer vaccine candidate it is even lower i.e. a temperature of -70 degree Celsius.
The cold chain facilities are a major issue in many countries including India. The Indian government is currently trying to develop an advanced cold chain infrastructure for vaccine storage by assembling cold storage, refrigerated warehouses, ripening chambers, and other temperature-controlled storage spaces. Thus, a robust cold chain infrastructure is a paramount requirement for maintaining the efficacy of the Vaccines.
The other major hurdle is what should be the pattern of vaccination drive and who all should be given priority during the inoculation process? It is a well-known fact that whenever a vaccine would be approved, only a small number of doses will be manufactured in the first run, and large scale manufacturing of vaccines is expected to begin by July next year.
In such a scenario the major question arises that who should get the vaccine first? Either Covid warriors, who are our first line of defense should get it first, or should the elderly class which is the most vulnerable, inoculated first? A response to these questions is still awaited and has put the heads of state in a fix. Now they have to decide whose life is more valued in their eyes.
The race for the vaccine has now entered into a critical juncture with a large number of vaccine candidates entering the advanced trial stages and some even showing fruitful results. The presence of so many vaccine candidates in the trial phases will definitely provide a cushion to the nations in terms of vaccine distribution. However, the efficacy and feasibility will be two germane characteristics that will determine the preference given to a particular vaccine by the nations.
Author(s) Name: Shivanshu Dwivedi (Faculty of Law, University of Lucknow)