Dr Ashwani Mahajan
Intense efforts are being made in the country and the world to get rid of the present corona pandemic. It is believed that the corona vaccine is the only permanent solution to the pandemic. Significantly, an effective vaccine helps in building antibodies to fight disease in the body, to save humans.
Naturally, development of vaccine remains a challenge for medical scientists, for an infection that has never been seen or heard before, which spreads many times faster than other viruses. In such a situation, the 185 efforts are on to develop a vaccine and out of these trials for nearly 35 vaccines are also going on at different levels. Significantly, after all trials, it takes nearly 6 to 7 years for a vaccine to reach the market. But the world cannot afford much time to produce a corona vaccine, because the corona virus is rapidly engulfing humanity around the world and economies are also getting hurt. People’s jobs are being destroyed and there is a possibility of 10 percent decline in the GDP of the world jn 2020; and this is happening for the first time in the history of the world.
In his address to the nation on 15 August 2020, the Prime Minister said that three vaccine trials are going on at different levels in the country and the country may soon get a Corona vaccine. Meanwhile, the approval of the clinical trial of the vaccine developed by Oxford University, at the Post Graduate Institute of Medical and Research (PGIMER) in Chandigarh has been postponed as its safety clearance is still awaited.
It’s notable that none of the candidate vaccines in advanced clinical trials have so far demonstrated a “clear signal” of efficacy at the level of at least 50% sought by the WHO, spokeswoman Margaret Harris said last week.
In the meanwhile, Russia has also registered a vaccine and has approached India to commercially produce the same. Not only this, Oxford University has also approached India for the production of vaccine. It is worth noting that there is no parallel of India in the field of vaccine production and many of India’s well-known companies play a leading role in vaccine production. Seven Indian pharma companies are currently in the race for vaccine clearance.
Today, as the country and the world are struggling with the havoc of Corona, many companies are adopting numerous tactics to increase their sales. On the one hand, they are trying to advance the sale of their vaccine, on the other; they are also trying to discredit the vaccine developed by others. These companies are making lobbying efforts, to achieve their objectives. Bill Gates, who claims himself to be a philanthropist, has also been supporting these companies in profiteering, directly or indirectly. A cartel of companies, packaged as public private partnership to give it acceptability, known as Global Alliance for Vaccine and Immunization (GAVI) is also supported by his organization Bill Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). It’s notable that GAVI is making all out efforts to pursue countries to make advance commitments to purchase their vaccine. This alliance has the direct support of the World Health Organization (WHO).
On the other hand, nations are worried that the vaccine, about which the purchase commitment is being obtained, will it be effective against Corona or not? They are also worried, whether the price of vaccine will be within their affordability. It is clear that the multinationals dominated GAVI is fully supported by BMGF and they are trying hard to profiteer even in this pandemic and they have the support of powerful BMGF and World Health Organization.
Trials of vaccine developed in India are also producing good results. Along with that, Russia has also given license for the first corona vaccine in the world. The research published by them has also shown that their vaccine is effective. Russia is expecting India to support in mass production of this vaccine.
As Russia developed Corona vaccine and advances in vaccine manufacturing with India’s help, companies globally and their supporter, the World Health Organization, are desperately vying for a profit by selling the vaccine globally. The World Health Organization has even said that this ‘vaccine nationalism’ will delay Corona vaccine. From this it is also being speculated that the World Health Organization may discourage the work of manufacturing vaccines by agencies, other than their supported companies. However, this is also a fact that WHO is fast losing its credibility during this corona period. America has already severed its relations with WHO and many other countries are showing their dissatisfaction with the activities of WHO.
Business of Vaccine
Till now most of the vaccines has been administered to children. It is believed that children can be protected from various types of diseases from birth to young age by giving them different types of vaccines. Over time, a variety of vaccines were introduced into the National Universal Immunization Program (UIP) in India. Apart from this, some vaccines are also given optionally. Mandatory UIP in India includes BCG, Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV), which is administered at three levels, Hepatitis-B, Pentavalent, Rotovirus, PCV, FIP and Measles or MR, JE, DPT Booster and TT Vaccine. In addition, pregnant women are also inevitably given some vaccines.
As such, most of these vaccines are made in India and they are quite affordable as no royalty is paid on them. But recently many new vaccines have been included in the UIP, which are quite expensive because they are patented and companies charge a heavy price for them. Significantly, the vaccine named Pentavalent has been included in the UIP in place of the DPT vaccine, at a price which is multifold of previous vaccine.
Fair vaccine policy
Today, while India has risen to number two in the list of countries affected by corona infection, despite all the better measures to deal with corona, the vaccine is becoming an imperative to prevent corona. India will have to choose from the worldwide vaccine efforts. There will be three criterions of this selection. First, selected vaccine should be effective? It is believed that no vaccine will be 100 percent effective and cannot be expected to be so. We need to choose the vaccine, which is most effective. The second criterion for this selection will be the side effect of the vaccine. The least side-effect and the least harmful vaccine have to be chosen. Developing countries of the world including India which are going through a severe economic crisis due to this pandemic, affordability is also a major issue. Therefore, third criterion is the cost of the vaccine. That is, the vaccine that is most affordable should be chosen.
This is actually vaccine nationalism, which the World Health Organization is advising the world to avoid. We need to end these lobbying efforts by vested interests, against national interests. Vaccine nationalism for India is the way forward, against blind support to corporate interests.
(The author is Associate Professor, PGDAV College, University of Delhi)
Dr Ashwani Mahajan