Booster shot

| Updated on November 07, 2021

WHO’s approval is a shot-in-the-arm for Bharat Biotech   -  Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

With Covaxin getting WHO’s nod, India should now push it through COVAX and Vaccine Maitri

The grant of ‘emergency use listing’ (EUL) by the World Health Organization (WHO) to Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin is a proud moment indeed for Indian science and for its pharmaceuticals industry. To be sure, this is not the first vaccine from India or from Bharat Biotech to be approved by the WHO; there have been vaccines offering protection against hepatitis B, rotavirus, typhoid and encephalitis, to name just a few, that were developed by Bharat Biotech and approved by WHO. What is noteworthy with Covaxin is that it was developed indigenously as a public-private partnership between the company and the Indian Council of Medical Research in less than seven months and has proved to be an effective protection against most mutants of the Covid-19 virus. Its clearance comes as a boost to the ‘make in India’ initiative, besides affirming India’s potential to rise to the occasion in a global health crisis – a role it played earlier with its supplies of affordable HIV medicines. Indians who have taken the Covaxin jab should now be able to travel without quarantining themselves.

It is surprising that WHO approval for Covaxin should have taken a full six-and-a-half months as it is based on time-tested inactivated virus technology as compared to the mRNA vaccines, which are based on new technology whose long-terms effects on humans are still unknown. Apart from the fact that the inactivation process needs to be fool-proof, the vaccine can be considered as good or safe as any other. Nevertheless, Covaxin’s share in the total domestic vaccine supplies should increase from the current levels of 15-17 per cent as output increases in the coming months. Bharat Biotech should supply more to COVAX and become a major player in the Vaccine Maitri initiative. The licensing of units, both in India and abroad, for the production of Covaxin should begin in right earnest. India should seize the initiative in the context of the upcoming WTO ministerial in Geneva — which could bring up the twin subjects of IPR waivers and compulsory licensing — by announcing a large COVAX commitment. The onus will be on the EU and US to walk the talk on vaccine transfers.

Meanwhile, back home, India needs to push ahead with vaccinations in the 45 districts where even the first dose coverage is poor. As the Prime Minister has said, laxity on the second dose should be countered through door-to-door campaigns. While the country has administered over a billion doses in nine months (China has done better, though), India needs to deliver at least another 800 million jabs (which includes over 600 million doses for the second jab) to fully vaccinate its eligible population. This could take four months even if India proceeds at the recent rate of administering six million doses daily. Shots for children, as well as boosters, are not a priority now. The focus should be on fully vaccinating the eligible population in the shortest possible time. Going forward, India should consolidate on its expertise in producing and administering vaccines.

Published on November 07, 2021

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