Vaccines are the most potent vehicle to fight the pandemic. Having developed, clinically tried and tested, regulated and already administered vaccines to over 100 crore people in such a short time, the country has set an extraordinary example in global fight against Covid-19.
Dr Balram Bhargava, Director General, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said , “The experience of developing Covaxin has instilled self-confidence in us that India is now much more than the pharmacy of the world. It is also a vaccine superpower. This confidence in being able to develop new vaccines from the scratch now pervades the industry and the academia, and it is the right time to use our learnings from these experiences to develop new vaccines for other diseases and scale them up.”
India was one of the first countries to have its roadmap to fight the disease ready along with other developed nations such as the US, the UK in the WHO meeting in February 2020, soon after the pandemic struck the world. The country, the largest producer of the vaccines in the world, knew that vaccines could be its biggest strengths.
“The biggest factor that helped us in this fight was vaccine Atmanirbharta (self-reliance). India has developed not one but many Covid-19 vaccines and that too using different technologies, some tried and tested and some latest. The soon-to-be administered DNA vaccine by Zydus-Cadila, an Ahmedabad-based vaccine company, is the world’s first DNA vaccine. This has not been achieved overnight; it is the result of one-and-a-half years of hard work,” says Dr N K Arora, member, National Covid-19 Task Force.
“We were looking at developing five to six vaccines simultaneously using different platforms. There were many challenges, the biggest initially was to have adequate research facilities. But the government not only encouraged the researchers but also supported innovation funding, giving the industry the confidence to work on mRNA and DNA vaccines,” says Renu Swarup, secretary, Department of Bio-Technology.
The researchers required animal facilities, immune assay laboratories, clinical trial facilities, and the government ramped them up. Today there are 54 clinical trial sites and 4 animal test facilities. “Had this pandemic come during the 1980s, it would have been a different situation. The biggest strength India has in 2020-21 is that it did not have to depend upon western countries for anything, be it drugs, vaccines, or diagnostics,” says Dr Shekhar Mande, director general, Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).
The pandemic saw all researchers coming together from academia, the industry, and start-ups, who shared knowledge, ideas, infrastructure, breaking the boundaries between academia and the industry. The country indigenously developed Covaxin which, along with Covishield, has driven our vaccination programme. “We have already got Emergency Use Authorization for the world’s first DNA vaccine, and soon we are going to have a vaccine from Biological E. Besides, an mRNA vaccine is in phase 2 clinical trials,” says Dr Swarup.
Regarding 100 crore vaccinations, experts believe, are a result of concerted efforts of both the private and public agencies in the healthcare sector. This will particularly help save lives of elderly and people who are at high risk of developing a severe disease.
“Along with the immunity, the population has developed through natural infection. The massive vaccination drive, I strongly feel, will protect our population against any severe wave. And those affected can be taken care of by the existing healthcare infrastructure. It is a big relief as now we can concentrate on other infectious diseases that affect the country but were neglected due to the pandemic,” says Dr Jayaprakash Muliyil, Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the ICMR-National Institute of Epidemiology (ICMR-NIE)