Covid-19: Collaboration in vaccine development can save million lives

In a supply crunch, it is important for India to ensure that vaccines are procured quickly, from wherever they are available and administered to the population, even where there is a demand side hesitancy.

Covid-19: Collaboration in vaccine development can save million lives
With this agreement, RDIF expects India to be the biggest production hub for the Sputnik vaccine, making vaccines for both local and global consumption. RDIF also has signed agreements with other Indian manufactures and has said it plans to produce a total of 850 million doses per year in the country.

By Dr. Amir Ullah Khan,

The inoculation drive in India received a fillip with the arrival of first batches of Sputnik V in May 2021. Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) and vaccine developers The Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology were amongst the pioneers who started work on developing the vaccine much before various others. In a supply crunch, it is important for India to ensure that vaccines are procured quickly, from wherever they are available and administered to the population, even where there is a demand side hesitancy.

Given the repercussions and alarming number of new cases and death toll in India with the second wave of Covid pandemic and the fear of the third wave, it is important to understand that apart from inoculating the country’s population, it is equally important for vaccine producers to work together in bringing out the highest efficacy levels of the corresponding vaccine. That is why the stress on cooperation among various competitors who are in the market selling the much sought after vaccine against COVID 19.

A lot has been said recently around the world about the merit of the so-called “vaccine cocktails”, or combinations of different vaccines to help achieve stronger and longer-lasting immunity against the virus and better safety. Sputnik V was specifically built on this very same approach by relying on two different vectors, Ad5 and Ad26, instead of just relying on the same shot twice like everybody else. This approach, while making for higher efficiency and effectiveness, also could be the way forward to combat the fast mutating virus and its various new strains. This process could also help solve some of the more difficult problems of storage at very low temperatures and transportation across difficult terrain.

This unique approach has made Sputnik V a “vaccine cocktail”, and resulted in additional protection and stronger immunity, making the Russian anti-COVID vaccine one of only three approved vaccines with confirmed efficacy of over 90% shown both during clinical trials and over the course ?f real-world use in many countries. Not only that, Sputnik V developers were also the first to suggest as far back as November that joint clinical trials should be started in conjunction with another vaccine, the AstraZeneca one, to see if this vaccine mixture could lead to even higher efficacy and better safety. The trials are currently ongoing. The advantages of this approach, many months later, are finally being acknowledged as other vaccines are considering their own “cocktails.”

To win this pandemic battle, Sputnik V manufacturers have come forward to support AstraZeneca vaccine to maximize protection and reach the highest potential efficacy and safety levels. Studies of the efficacy levels of AstraZeneca vaccine have reportedly been wide-ranging. Initially this vaccine was reported as being 70-percent effective, it was later disclosed that the effectiveness was reported by the Lancet as 62 percent in people who received two full doses, and closer to 90 percent amongst people who received one half and one full dose. AstraZeneca used these two percentages to average an effectiveness rate at 76 percent. Efficacy of Sputnik V against COVID-19 was reported at 91.6% and validated by internationally peer reviewed data published in The Lancet.

While both vaccines use adenoviral vector technology, the AstraZeneca vaccine uses chimpanzee adenovirus, whereas Sputnik V is based on human adenovirus. Unlike AstraZeneca that uses the same component for both the jabs, Sputnik V uses two shots of two different vectors, Ad5 and Ad26 as they found that using the latter approach has been more effective in ensuring better and lasting immune response. Mixing two different vaccines may give the immune system multiple ways to recognize a pathogen. More importantly, even if the vaccine cocktail does not become very widespread during the first inoculation programme, it could later be used to tackle new, more potent COVID variants — either because they are more effective or certain combinations are found to be better at targeting specific variants.

In a latest tweet, Sputnik V clarified Sputnik V will soon offer a booster shot, adjusted to work against the Delta variant of coronavirus, first detected in India, to other vaccine manufacturers. Time and again, we have seen vaccines such as Sputnik V coming forward to strengthen the fight against the pandemic. It would be in our best interest to look at this fascinating new possibility and claims being made by these large vaccine manufacturers. If this approach works and gets past the trial and approval stage quickly, we could see a real game changer in a country struggling with administering vaccines to a small number of urban populations, while the large and more vulnerable rural youth dreadfully waits for a possible third wave.

(The author is Economist at MCRHRDI of the Government of Telangana and a former adviser with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The article is for informational purposes only. Please consult health experts and medical professionals before starting any therapy or medication. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)

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First published on: 18-06-2021 at 12:51:13 pm