From Bharat Biotech to Pfizer and Moderna: Latest updates amid race to develop COVID-19 vaccines

As the race to create viable vaccines to combat the deadly COVID-19 virus continues, several companies have recently announced the results of their successful trials. And if these recent results are anything to go by, things are certainly looking a tad optimistic. Over the last few weeks, as several vaccine candidates entered the final stages of their trials, India has been readying itself.

The first batch of Russia's Sputnik V arrived in India recently for clinical trials. In the meantime, logistics companies, airports and the like are also gearing up for when the vaccine will become available. Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport and GMR Hyderabad airport's cargo for example, are set to play a pivotal role in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines as they are equipped with the state-of-the-art time and temperature-sensitive distribution systems.

Oxford-AstraZeneca Vaccine

Adar Poonawalla, the CEO of Pune-based Serum Institute of India which is collaborating on the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine opined on Friday that by 2024, every Indian was likely to get vaccinated. According to the CEO, the Oxford COVID-19 vaccine should be available for healthcare workers and elderly people by around February 2021 and by April for the general public. This, he had said, would be priced at a maximum of Rs. 1,000 for two necessary doses.

While the creators say that there is still work to be done, the vaccine candidate had recently made headlines after early data revealed strong immune response in people over 70.

Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine

This vaccine candidate currently appears to be leading the race, having published its final data mere days ago. The data shows that their mRNA vaccine protects nearly 95% of people from falling ill. Of the 170 volunteers who contacted COVID-19 during the Phase III trials (which involved more than 43,000 people), 162 had received a placebo and only eight received the two-dose vaccine — meaning the vaccine was 95% effective.

Pfizer formally asked US regulators Friday to allow emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine, starting the clock on a process that could bring limited first shots as early as next month and eventually an end to the pandemic -- but not until after a long, hard winter.

Moderna Vaccine

Not far behind Pfizer is the Moderna Inc. COVID-19 vaccine. Its early data suggests the shots are as strong as Pfizer's, and that company expects to also seek emergency authorization for usage in the US within weeks. Moderna had said earlier this week that its virus vaccine has an efficacy rate of 94.5%.

Bharat Biotech's Covaxin

Closer to home, Bharat Biotech is also making waves as it works to test its vaccine candidate. The third phase human trial for 'Covaxin' is currently underway. The indigenous vaccine, being developed by Bharat Biotech and ICMR, has received the approval of the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) for initiating the third-phase trial. This trial is being conducted at 21 selected medical institutes across the country.

Haryana Health Minister Anil Vij was administered a trial dose of Bharat Biotech's COVID-19 vaccine 'Covaxin' at a hospital in Ambala on Friday. He had offered to be the first volunteer for the third phase trial. In phase three, two doses would be administered to each volunteer 28 days apart but the follow-up period would extend to 12 months to look at its long term and side-effects. As such, this vaccine is not at present at the top of the leader board.

What is the best option for India?

Global leaders insist that the various companies working on vaccines are not competitors, simply because it would require their collective efforts to immunize the world when it came to COVID-19. However, in an Indian context, several other factors have to be taken into consideration. In the short term, India's vaccine options are limited to the leading candidates, of which the Serum Institute (the Oxford vaccine) has already announced it's intention to make a massive number of doses available to the country.

The decision on procuring the right COVID-19 vaccine depends on multiple factors, including safety, price and ease of deployment. Scientists opine that preventives that can be stored at higher temperatures rather than those developed from mRNA or viral vectors are preferable. That would potentially rule out the three vaccine candidates that have shown over 90% efficiency over the last few days -- Pfizer-BioNtech with 90 per cent efficacy in Phase 3 trial interim results, Sputnik V with 92 per cent and Moderna with 94.5 per cent - raising hopes across the globe that a preventive is on the horizon.

While none of them are protein-based, the one from US biotechnology company Moderna is perhaps the most suitable for Indian conditions because it doesn't need the extreme low temperatures that the others do.

(With inputs from agencies)

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