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The International Race for a COVID-19 Vaccine

Salil Kale

16th September 2020

The race for a vaccine persists despite minor setback hindering trials. (Source: Oxford Vaccine Group.)

The number of deaths due to the SARS-CoV-2 virus is now more than 935,000. If the current trend follows, the world could witness its one-millionth death in a mere few months. People worldwide are gradually growing hopeful as clinical trials for multiple possible vaccines are on the rise.

According to the World Health Organisation, there are currently 169 potential vaccines in trials, with 26 in the human trial phase. When a vaccine is approved, COVAX, the vaccine pillar of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT), will equally distribute and provide access to the vaccine(s) in all countries, with high-risk individuals being prioritised.

A few vaccines are in the lead for a veritable cure to the virus, with one promising candidate being developed by The University of Oxford and AstraZeneca. The vaccine is already in its third phase of clinical trials, although further testing has to be done for a safe and effective cure. The move to Phase-3 tests involves almost 30,000 subjects comprising patients from the US, UK, Brazil and South Africa. According to the BBC, vaccines in their third phase of trials can last years, with thousands of participants.

The trials for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine were halted after a patient showed an adverse reaction, suspecting it to be a side-effect of the vaccine. However, the university declared the vaccine as fit last Saturday. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said, “This pause shows we will always put safety first. We will back our scientists to deliver an effective vaccine as soon as possible”.

Another vaccine by the American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer is being developed along with the German Biotechnology company BioNTech, with clinical trials currently functioning in the third phase. As reported by Business Insider, the Pfizer vaccine is one of three being funded by the US government, with an initial order of 100 million doses worth Rs. 14 crores already lined up.

CanSino Biological Inc. and Beijing Institute of Biotechnology are collaborating on their vaccine, which was one of the first to be cleared for a clinical trial earlier in March. Currently, this vaccine is also under Phase-3 trials.

The Russians do not lag far behind. The Gamaleya Research Institute is testing its Sputnik-V vaccine and is in the Phase-3 clinical trials. There have been safety speculations about the vaccine from several scientists around the world. Indian vaccine maker Indian Immunologicals Ltd is in talks to collaborate on manufacturing the vaccine on Indian soil, as reported by Indian Express.

Simultaneously, the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI), Dr VG Somani deemed it safe to continue clinical trials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine by the Serum Institute of India on 10th September 2020.

The total number of cases in India has crossed the 50-lakh mark, with a massive spike of 90,123 new cases, reported NDTV. 20 per cent of all cases in the world are currently from India; this is the biggest 24-hour spike that the country has seen.

On 11th September 2020, the DCGI had halted any new recruitment for Phase- 2/3 of the clinical trials for the vaccine, till further information was given by The University of Oxford and AstraZeneca about the ‘unexplained illness’.

(Sources: BBC, NDTV, Oxford Vaccine Group, WHO, Business Insider, The Indian Express)

Edited by Nayana Dhanya

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