Green light for Covaxin likely in 4-6 weeks: WHO expert


Express News Service

BENGALURU: The World Health Organisation (WHO) is likely to take a decision on including Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin in its list of vaccines approved for emergency use, in four to six weeks, the world body’s Chief Scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan has said. A WHO pre-qualification, or Emergency Use Listing, is necessary for a vaccine manufacturer to supply vaccines to global entities such as COVAX or even internationally.

At a webinar organised by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) on Friday, Dr Swaminathan explained that the company needs to complete its phase-3 trials and submit the whole dossier to the regulatory department of the WHO. This is then examined by an expert advisory group and, based on completeness of the data, which includes safety and efficacy, manufacturing quality standards, etc., the approval is granted.“I understand that Bharat Biotech is in this process and I think a decision on their case is likely in the next four to six weeks,” said Dr Soumya Swaminathan.Experts insisted that the only way to contain the virus from continuing to spread is to share vaccines and beat the “vaccine apartheid.” 

Prof Shabir A Madhi, Professor of Vaccinology and Director of the SAMRC Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Analytical Research Unit, University of the Witwatersrand, said, “Countries like South Africa have been unable to get access to adequate numbers of Covid-19 vaccines. This has been due to the inequitable distribution of vaccines around the world.”Dr Soumya too pointed out that it was frustrating that countries are contemplating and testing booster doses for themselves when large parts of the world, especially Africa, hadn’t yet got vaccinated.

The target was to have at least 10 per cent of the world population fully vaccinated by September and 40 per cent by December. But it is unlikely that the world will be sufficiently protected, at least for the next year-and-a-half, and ‘herd immunity’, when a substantial number of people are protected by antibodies, is only likely when 80 per cent has been vaccinated, she said. She explained that the immediate option before the world is for countries which have achieved at least 40-60 per cent inoculation of their population, to start sharing the doses with others and also follow all Covid-19 protocols.

“India can help set up manufacturing centres and share technology on other indigenous vaccines with countries like Africa and others,” Dr Soumya said.The experts warned that politicians must stop advocating vaccinations, promising herd immunity.  

“If politicians promise that vaccinating 80 per cent of the population can achieve herd immunity, then, when we see resurgence in cases, public confidence in vaccines will go away,” Dr Madhi pointed out. He explains that herd immunity of 80 per cent is not in one country, but across the globe, which, according to him, is impossible for the next 3-4 years. The experts on the panel suggested that the conversation should now be steered away from herd immunity towards emphasising on personal protection achieved through vaccination.  

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