With over 15 million confirmed cases worldwide, the current COVID-19 pandemic is probably the biggest health crisis of our times. Notably, the novel coronavirus has already claimed more than 617K deaths across borders. Despite precautionary guidelines and restrictions, the world continues to witness a surge in the cases. 

Back home, though we started well but following the unlocks, we have witnessed a massive increase in the coronavirus cases. India has already crossed the 1 million mark and has already registered 11,92,915 COVID-19 positive cases and 28,732 deaths due to the virus. The virus has proven to be especially lethal for vulnerable groups including patients with co-morbidities, young children, pregnant women and the elderly.

A safe vaccine seems to be the only way out of the current pandemic. Researchers around the world are collaborating and working on several vaccine candidates.  Various front runners among these have already showed promising results in the initial phases of clinical trials.

Notable Front-Runners For COVID-19 Vaccine

  • University of Oxford’s AZD1222
  • CanSino’s Ad5-nCoV
  • Moderna’s mRNA-1273
  • BioNTech’s BNT162

We recently talked to a few experts from the field of healthcare and research & development to better understand the latest updates in the COVID -19 vaccine trials and challenges that lie ahead.

Prof. Saurabh Kulshrestha, Dean Research and Development at Shoolini University said, “The recent developments in the development of the COVID-19 vaccine are really exciting and shows a ray of hope in the current pandemic times.”

Many of the vaccine candidates have already shown promising results in Phase-1 and Phase-2 of clinical trials and are all set to enter the Phase-3. Notably, the vaccine candidate developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca has already shown promise in its initial trial results published earlier this week.

Moreover, the vaccine candidate by Sinovac Biotech Ltd has also secured approval for its Phase-3 trials in Bangladesh as cases continue to surge within the country. The Serum Institute in India is also expected to soon start the trials of Oxford’s promising candidates in the country.

Doctors Hope For Approved COVID Vaccine By Dec 2020

Researchers around the world are working round the clock to develop COVID-19 vaccine

A major question that most of us have right now is by when can we expect to have an assured COVID-19 vaccine?

“No one knows for sure, but I am hoping (and expecting) the world will have a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of this year,” said Dr.Abhineet Sharma, Block Medical Officer, Ghumarwin. 

He added that there are several vaccine candidates that are already under clinical trials and have shown positive results in the initial studies. So, it is quite possible that one of them would successfully emerge as an effective vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 virus by the end of 2020.

Dr. Ravi Singh Dogra, MS Surgery also seemed to agree and offered a similar assessment. Dr.Dogra said, “Going by the current results, it appears likely that we would have an approved COVID-19 vaccine by December 2020 (or latest by January 2021).”

Challenges Ahead For A Possible COVID Vaccine

However, Dr.Dogra also pointed out the uncertainties with the development of any vaccine until the final stages.  He noted that while we have seen promising results in the Phase-1 and Phase-2, one can never know for sure what will happen in the next phase.

He added, “We are assessing the situation based on the current trends but the vaccine candidates may still show significant side-effects in the third phase.”

Furthermore, Prof. Kulshreshta added that even if a vaccine soon completes the Phase-3, it would become accessible to all only by the second half of 2021. He said that even if avaccine is approved, getting it manufactured on such a large scale to fulfil the demands for global population would be a challenge.

Money and vaccine syringe
Affordability and availability to be the major challenges for COVID-19 vaccine.

He added, “That is why, the companies working on vaccine candidates are collaborating with the companies world over for its manufacturing on the large scale.”

Dr.Dogra explained that availability and affordability have always been the key factors determining the wider reach of a vaccine. He further cited the contradictory examples of vaccines for polio and hepatitis.

Due to the government’s campaigns over the years and free availability of the polio vaccine, India has successfully been able to win its battle against the disease. On the other hand, the hepatitis vaccine has been around for years but lack of awareness and costs have left large number of people unimmunised till date.

Thereby, as we are nearing a potential COVID-19 vaccine, it has reignited the debate on whether or not the vaccine should be made available free of cost. Furthermore, many are of the opinion that an indigenous vaccine would be the ideal situation for India. Dr. Sharma said that it would be good for the country as it would then be more likely to be readily available to the Indians.

However, Dr.Dogra noted that it should not make much of a difference. He explained, “India is a leading manufacturer of vaccines and produces nearly 60 percent of the total vaccines in the world.”

He added that irrespective of the origin of the vaccine, it is likely that India would be involved in its mass production. Therefore, it is likely to be easier for India to keep it cost-effective. However, retorting to his earlier point, he added that government would have a crucial role in determining the availability of the vaccine. 

Moreover, Prof. Kulshrestha said, “Whenever the vaccine enters India, it is likely to be first given to the vulnerable population like the elderly, kids, pregnant ladies and people with pre-existing medical conditions and at the end would be given to the general masses.”

Furthermore, Dr. Sharma said that a vaccine can usually have both positive and negative side effects. He asserted that as we await a COVID-19 vaccine we should also be ready for potential instances of AEFIs (Adverse Event Following Immunization).

It Isn’t The Time To Let Our Guards Down

Prof. Kulshrestha cautioned, “Virus is here and is here to stay for a long long time even after we may have a vaccine and a large number of world’s population gets vaccinated.” He noted that the masses get vaccinated for a lot of viral diseases like measles, mumphs, etc. but these viruses have still not been completely eliminated.

Dr.Dogra also talked about the more vulnerable populations and impact of the pandemic on the Non-COVID patients. He shared that the pandemic has indeed created a further strain on the country’s healthcare system. He noted that India already faces a shortage of healthcare staff.

Standard Precautions against COVID-19
Basic Precautions to be followed to prevent COVID-19

He added, “Post the coronavirus outbreak, a large part of the healthcare staff has been focussed on containing and treating COVID-19 patients. Thus, it has led to an unavoidable delay in providing other patients the quality care that would usually be more readily available earlier.”

Reflecting on concerns around violations of the government guidelines, Dr. Sharma urged people to strictly comply with the government’s guidelines to contain the virus. He recommended that people should step out of their homes only when it is absolutely necessary. He strongly advised people to strictly follow social distancing, wear face masks and to wash hands regularly. He further advised them to also use the AarogyaSetu app as an additional safeguard.

Furthermore, offering similar advice, Dr.Dogra referred to the many incidents of people violating the self-isolation guidelines and social distancing norms as ‘stupidity.’ He opined that the many violations despite awareness have been the major reason behind the spike in COVID-19 cases in the country.

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