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Wednesday, July 29, 2020

COVID-19 Vaccine: Optimism Grows As Two More Candidates Enter Final Human Trials Phase!


Optimism for a possible cure for COVID-19 has been growing since the positive results obtained for the vaccine being developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca in its initial two human trials. Now, two more vaccines, namely by Moderna Inc and by Pfizer Inc in the USA, have entered the final or phase-3 of human clinical trials. Both the vaccines are starting the trials with volunteers up to 30,000 each. The final trials will check the safety and the effectiveness of the vaccines in humans in ages between 18 to 85, and hopefully it could clear the way for regulatory approval and widespread use by the end of this year itself, as per news reports. While Moderna Therapeutics had never brought a vaccine to the market before Pfizer started its vaccine development process in 2019 in collaboration with a German biotech firm BioNTech. The last-stage clinical trials of the duo will be done in 39 states across the US, and also in countries like Argentina, Brazil and Germany; in all, 120 global sites.

These two vaccines are part of Trump Administration’s efforts to fast-track the vaccine testing, producing and manufacturing process. Moderna has been facilitated with a special US fund support of $1 billion apart from a non-traditional technology support that allows faster development and manufacturing. Pfizer Inc has also cut a deal with Trump Administration by which it would supply 50 million doses to the US at the cost of $2 billion, apart from the new technology support. Subject to approval, Moderna aims at producing 500 million to 1 billion doses a year starting the beginning of 2021 while Pfizer will have 1.3 billion doses ready by the end of 2021. Of course, bulk of the doses will be utilized within USA, and some will be distributed in a few other developed countries.

Meanwhile, the Serum Institute of India has partnered with Oxford-AstraZeneca and is already in the process of manufacturing 2-3 million doses by August end, 2020, taking calculated risks that the Oxford vaccine would repeat its positive results in the final phase too. The Institute has also obtained permission from the government of India to conduct final-phase human trials in India too from August, 2020. As per news reports Oxford’s COVID-19 vaccine called AZD122 will be manufactured and distributed in India as Covishield vaccine which would cost less than 1000 INR per dose. The Institute has also announced to the media that by end of 2020 it will have at least 50 million Covishield doses ready, half of which will be supplied to the government of India while the rest is to be given to other countries, mostly less developed nations.

Various levels of optimism are thus available for the eager subjects of the planet earth. The most optimistic one is Donald Trump’s target of large-scale use within the next two months; taking the scenario of the three vaccines into consideration the probable target delivery would be by end of 2020; and scientists/doctors of the World Health Organization still hold the view that a safe and effective vaccine can be ready for mass use only in the first half of 2021, at the most optimistic count.  Many other experts across the globe say that if a vaccine gets produced within a year that would be unprecedented, because a normal vaccine takes five to ten years to be ready for mass use. However, they further say, in view of the fact that COVID-19 is a totally new virus and the way the pandemic has been raging all around for the last few months taking a toll of more than 6,50,000 lives so far, the urge for producing a vaccine in quick time is justified. But they say that evolving a safe and effective vaccine is a tricky job, the challenges are big at every stage: manufacturing to distribution, and finally, how many millions are to be vaccinated considering also the fact that many of them could be unwilling to get vaccinated.

Being optimistic is a positive sentiment, and so, there is nothing wrong in hoping for that magic cure for the Coronavirus which has displayed a range of strains, from mild to serious to fatal, making it thus an extremely dicey party to deal with. We must hope for a safe vaccine at the earliest, be it by end of this year or in the first half of 2021. Our hope is not at all groundless, because apart from the three vaccines in final stages of trials as we mentioned earlier, there are about 150 vaccine candidates across the globe in various stages of development. The probability factor, therefore, is fast turning into a possibility factor: the human victory over the enemy of humanity is all but a matter of time now. 

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