NY Day Gift: India Gets The First COVID-19 Vaccine, Covishield!

Photo: jagran.com

The Subject Expert Committee (SEC) of India’s Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) under the Indian regulator, Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI), has today recommended Covishield, COVID-19 vaccine Oxford-AstraZeneca’s Indian version manufactured locally by the Serum Institute of India (SII), for emergency use in the country, although conditionally. Now, the final approval of the DCGI is awaited which is almost a formality, because the regulator would not possibly ask for more data or do more analysis. Therefore, on this New Year Day-2021 it is well-nigh certain that India has finally got its first COVID-19 vaccine. This is more significant in view of the fact that a pan-India dry run of vaccination is being planned tomorrow, the 2nd of January. In fact, the good news has been expected since the 30th of December 2020 on which day the United Kingdom regulator approved the AstraZeneca vaccine developed by the scientists of Oxford University for emergency use, and on that very day the SEC held its first meeting to consider giving approval to Covishield.


The SII has around 50 million doses ready at the moment that can be given as the first dose to the people. As per the statistics there would be around 300 million Indian citizens in the first phase of vaccination based on the priority categories already lined up. In terms of manufacture logistics at least 600 million doses will be required to be produced which would take about 4-6 months to complete both production and vaccination. However, in view of at least three more vaccines almost ready for being approved for emergency use authorization the time-period could well be much lesser. It is to be remembered that every citizen would require two doses to be injected with an interval of 28 days between the first and the second dose.


Covishield is the ideal COVID-19 vaccine for a country like India for these reasons: this vaccine is much cheaper than all other vaccines in use in various parts of the globe; most importantly, Covishield can be stored at normal fridge temperature of 2-8 degree Celsius and can be administered for as long as six months after being taken out of storage; hence, storage and transportation of the vaccine will be seamless which is so important for India where the infra of a cold storage chain is very inadequate. Compared to this, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is much costlier, requires deep freezing at minus 70C and needs to be administered within five days once out of storage while the Moderna vaccine is also costlier than Covishield and requires deep freezing at minus 19C. However, while Pfizer and Moderna have shown efficacy rates of 95% and 94.1% respectively, the published AstraZeneca data have shown efficacy rates of over 70% which is immensely acceptable. Besides, under certain conditions it may range over 80% and it can have 90% efficacy in preventing the severe Coronavirus disease and hospitalization. AstraZeneca belongs to the old school ‘viral vector vaccine’ technology while both Pfizer-BioNTech and Modern vaccines have the new technology called ‘Messenger RNA or mRNA'.


Of the other vaccines in India, the most probable next would be the fully indigenous Covaxin being developed by Bharat Biotech which has completed two phases of clinical trials and has shown significantly promising results in the third and final phase of human trials. The next in the queue would be the Zydus-Cadila vaccine. Besides, the US-Germany Pfizer-BioNTech and the Russian Sputnik-V vaccines are also in the pipeline for future approval. Meanwhile, the Pfizer-BioNTech becomes the first vaccine to be approved by the World Health Organization for emergency use.


So then, at the very start of the New Year 2021 India gears up for mass vaccination, and this is bound to create a new sense of optimism all around the country. Besides, the daily new COVID-19 cases and daily death numbers have been consistently low in the last few days. There have been a few cases of the mutant UK strain too, but the spread has so far been contained successfully. We can pragmatically hope that the year 2021 will spell the end of the pandemic in the country. 


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