In India the fight against COVID is ‘Vaccine Nationalism’

By Dr. Mumtaz Naiyer

The year 2020 have been one of the difficult years in the human history due to coronavirus pandemic. It has affected the entire world. The modern day science and human race facing one of the difficult times. Meanwhile I got the news that India has approved one of the indigenous vaccine they have produced. I was bit excited to read the news. However, being researcher myself, I Keep tracking the vaccines especially the coronavirus vaccines throughout the world.  It’s not that we do not believe in Indian Science. India has achieved much in the field of science and technology over the past few decades be it the green revolution, IT or Space Technology we have made a niche. Nevertheless, the way Bharat Biotech’s Corona vaccine got approval raises many questions.

Upon tracking the Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin I came to know that they have applied for approval for conducting the phase III clinical trials. They have not completed the phase III clinical trials yet.  The clinical trial data in phase I and phase II are very small and cannot be reliable for administrating vaccine for such a large population like India.  What is the urgency to give approval a vaccine with small data from Phase II clinical trial?

Even FDA was hesitant to give approval for Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccine in the USA until United Kingdom gave the approval. United Kingdom was the first country to give such an approval and then many countries followed the United Kingdom some with Pfizer/BioNTech and some with their indigenous vaccines.

Is it good for India to roll out their indigenous vaccines now? India hardly spend much on healthcare and education. India’s total annual budget for healthcare sector is just 69,000 crore INR. However, government is ready to spend 70,000 crores to 100,000 crores for just one infectious disease. India has reported 1.49 lakh corona related death since the pandemic started in China. The total annual death in India due to other infectious diseases are at least 10 to 12 times higher.

The India TB Report 2020 stated that 79,144 deaths due to tuberculosis were reported in 2019. India notified the highest number of 24.04 lakh tuberculosis cases in the year 2019 as against an estimated 26.9 lakh cases by WHO, indicating that around three lakh patients missed out from the national TB programme, according to an annual report on the disease. The TB control and eradication programme is getting fractions of the total annual healthcare budget of 69,000 crore INR that India allots.

Now the question is why government is ready to spend 70,000 crores to 100,000 crores for one particular infectious disease and use the vaccine that have not even achieved phase III clinical trials? The efficacy data is not shared publicly by the company that produces Covaxin. Surprisingly government authorities bragging that the vaccine is with 110% efficacy. In modern day science achieving vaccines with even 99% efficacy is not possible. Polio was eradicated after vaccination for several decades.

The health of every individual is very important. In the 2020 Global Hunger Index, India ranks 94th out of the 107 countries. India a country with limited resources and such a large population have to think judiciously and smartly.

Being a scientist myself who work on infectious viruses and vaccines I wish India get rid of the coronavirus at the earliest however just to prove our vaccine nationalism we should not administer a vaccine with poor clinical phase II data. We can wait at least to see Bharat Biotech’s clinical phase III trial data for Covaxin or see how Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford AstraZeneca vaccines are performing in the Western countries. We should not involve in rat race to achieve some political points. Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine have strong phase III clinical data yet we are not sure that this is going to give us 100% immunity. The science is evolving and it will take several decades to understand the coronavirus completely.

Unfortunately, countries like China, Russia and India are playing the vaccine nationalism. This is not good for science and controlling the dreaded viruses like SARS-Cov2.

Hope better sense prevail.

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Dr Mumtaz Naiyer , Senior Research Associate, Division of Immunology, Department of Pathology,

University of Cambridge.  UK

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