Friday, September 17, 2021

Latest Update on Covid-19 Vaccine

There are some big updates on the Covid-19 vaccine from the scientists who are working on these vaccines, and we would like to tell you about the same today.

This vaccine has become far more effective than what scientists had expected and is under development today. And the pace with which the work is being done on these vaccines, it is expected that common people would be able to get it soon.

But there are many questions that arise here.

By exactly which date would we be able to get these vaccines? What are their side effects? And how effective would they turn out to be? Which country will get it first?

Let’s try and know about these things here today.

There are Phase 1, Phase 2, and Phase 3 trials whenever a vaccine is being developed.

In Phase 1, it tested upon a few people. In Phase 2, it is tested upon a few hundred people.
In Phase 3, it is tested upon thousands of people.

Status of top Vaccines

Moderna, one of the four leading candidates of vaccines in the USA, began the Phase 3 trial of their vaccine on 27th July, in which 30,000 volunteers participated. On 16th November, they announced the preliminary analysis of this trial. It was found in this analysis that their vaccine is 94.5% effective.

What does this mean?

So, the 30,000 volunteers were roughly divided into two. They were split in half such that 15000 are on one side and the rest 15000 are on the other side. One group was administered the vaccine, and the other group was not given the vaccine. Instead, they were given a placebo, i.e., a fake vaccine, so that if there is any psychological impact of taking the vaccine, then that could be neutralized.

It was found that out of 30,000 people, 95 people got infected with Covid-19, and out of these 95 people, 90 took the placebo, and only 5 people took the vaccine shot. So, now you can comprehend how effective this vaccine was.

The second vaccine on which the world is counting on is the Pfizer vaccine being made in Germany.

They completed their Phase 3 trial on 43,000 people and found their vaccine to be having an efficacy of 95%. The good news that they found out that the efficacy does not go down a lot in older people. They found out that the vaccine’s efficacy is 94%, even for people aged 65 and above.

This is great news because people were expecting the vaccine to be not as effective on the elderly.

Storage problem of vaccines

neck to neck race

But both Moderna and Pfizer have one problem.

Both of these have been made in such a way that it requires being in “deep freeze” in order to store them specifically, it is required to be stored in -70 degrees Celsius. So, the transportation of the vaccine is going to be a big problem logistically.

Logistics experts say that in India at present, there is a facility of storage till a maximum of -40 degrees Celsius. So, if the vaccine’s storage is made possible at even -25 degrees or -17 or even -30, it could be managed. But if it really requires -70 degrees Celsius storage, then a new cold storage facility would be needed to be built in the country.

News is that the government has already started preparing for its cold storage, transportation by using airline services. Hopefully, there won’t be much of an issue in logistics in the future if the preparations are already underway.

Side effects of the Covid-19 vaccine

Based on how severe or how dangerous the side effects are, we can judge how safe it is to get vaccinated. The good news is that in both these vaccines of Moderna and Pfizer, no life-threatening side effects have been found. However, many mild side effects have surfaced.

It was found in Moderna’s trial that 9.7 % of participants experienced fatigue, 8.9% experienced muscle pain, 5.2% experienced joint pain, while 4.5% experienced a headache.

The percentage of Pfizer’s vaccine was a little lesser.

Such that 3.8% of people experienced fatigue, 2% experienced headache, while 2% experienced fever. In other words, if you get vaccinated, then there is a 2% chance that you will have a fever because of it. This can be broadly assumed.

In order to understand these things in detail, Dhruv Rathee, a popular Youtuber, had a talk with one of India’s top leading doctors and vaccine experts, Dr. Gagandeep Kang.

in gagandeepkang
Image Credit: (Ashwani Nagpal/ ET, Delhi/ BCCL)

She quoted, “Till now, what we know is that if you get yourself a vaccine injection, then you may experience pain at the point of injection. You may also have a fever for a day or two. You might not feel good. But later on, you would feel fine. We haven’t seen any other side effects as of yet, but we will continue monitoring.”

But still, for us, long term side effects are a big question.

In the development of all these vaccines, no side effects are being monitored for a long period of time in a hurry to develop the vaccine as soon as possible.

This question arises because no one has done long-term testing; then what if someone who has been administered the vaccine experiences deadly side effects after two years become life-threatening? This is what we afraid of if the vaccines are being developed so soon.

Dr. Kang said, “When we look at the development of a vaccine and its safety is to be considered, FDA(Food & Drug Administration) has said that we will not even review a vaccine unless two months of safety data are shown. All the companies have been told to bring the data on the efficacy of the vaccine, but you must also bring at least two months’ data on the safety of the vaccine”.

Why should the safety data of at least two months be considered?

The safety data must be considered for two months because the vaccine’s side effects become visible within 6 weeks. We have seen all the side effects until now; the reasonably common side effects have become apparent within 6 weeks.

So what if the vaccine gets approved before that, and What if something happens in a year or two?

Dr. Kang said, “If something like this happens, then it will be an infrequent side effect. When we get a polio vaccine… polio drops; in 2.5 million vaccination cases, you will get one child with polio. This is how rare it is! There are side effects, but it is very rare.

So, if we look at it from an individual’s perspective, it becomes necessary for us to get vaccinated for the safety of others. But there is a personal benefit also of the vaccine that we would not get infected by Covid-19 if we were administered the vaccine, right? That is 95% efficacy!

Who should get the vaccine first?

There are a lot of debates regarding this. Most people believe that, first and foremost, the vaccine should be given to frontline health workers, the people who are saving other people by risking their own lives.

Whether the vaccine should be administered to the elderly first or the young, healthy individuals is also a discussion topic.

old vs young 999355
Image Credit: Getty Stock

On the face of it, you will say that the elderly are more at risk, and there is a higher threat to their life; therefore, they should get the vaccine. On the other hand, people argue that young, healthy individuals meet more people, travel more, and are asymptotic, i.e., they don’t know that they are infected. They are spreading it unknowingly.

So, if young people get the vaccine first, then the spread of infection might be contained first.

The other side’s argument is quite simple too; if the elderly get the vaccine first, then maybe if they are at risk, we will be able to save more lives.

Now that is on an individual level. But a more interesting question is which countries will get the vaccine first? Is it possible that rich countries will spend more money and buy these vaccines for their citizens first, and the poorer countries will get the vaccines later?

Which country will get it first, how is that decided?

Dr. Kang said, “Many countries have made advance purchase commitments. They have paid the companies and have said that while we don’t know yet whether their vaccines will work or not, if their vaccines are effective and they get the license eventually, they will buy 100 or 200 million doses from them. This is a risk that countries take. They do not know which vaccines will get the license, and when they will get the license.”

“Advance purchase commitments give them a sense of security that it will be supplied to them first whenever it will be approved. The US has done that it has a population of 300 million and has made an advance purchase commitment of 800 million doses.” she quoted.

But for which vaccine?

Many of them! They have bought six vaccines. Even if one or two of them does not work out, there will be enough doses for their population. In India, we have the advantage that our vaccine companies account for 40% of the global supply. If vaccines do get manufactured, then they will be manufactured in India, and it will be supplied to us as well.

We will get the supply from our vaccine companies, and there is another facility which is a joint effort of WHO(World Health Organization), GAVI(Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation), and another organization called CEPI(Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovation), which is developing vaccines and have come up with the COVAX facility and they have committed to buying 2 billion dosses and distributing it to 92 countries globally by the end of 2021. And in these countries, 20% of the population will get vaccines from the COVAX facility. And India is one of these 92 countries.

So, COVAX’s commitment is that 20% of our population will get vaccines from COVAX only.

But India has not made any advance purchase yet?

As of yet, we are unaware of any advance purchase. But we will get 20% from COVAX. After that, we will have to see that the companies manufacturing the vaccines, how much of it will they supply in India itself?

Will the government fund these companies?

The government has said that they have kept aside the money to pay for vaccines. The Narendra Modi government has set aside Rs 50000 crore to give Covid vaccine to the entire country.

Will it be available to everyone for free in India? What are its chances?

All the vaccines that come under the national programs are free. The 12 vaccines that are administered in India are given free of cost.

So in most countries, the government will pay the companies while the citizens will get the vaccine for free. This is what should happen because this is public health. You are getting vaccinated for yourself and for the community.

At the point of writing this article, there are 15 vaccines under Phase 3 trials in the entire world at present. 5 vaccines have already gotten early approval and are in limited use. All these five vaccines are either in China, Russia, or UAE. Two vaccines are already approved for full or emergency use.

Covid 19 Vaccine Tracker Latest Updates The New York Times
Image Credit: The New York Times

On 11th August, Russian President Putin had announced that their Russian healthcare regulator has already approved a vaccine named SPUTNIK-5. The vaccine was approved even before its Phase 3 trials began.

Some vaccines in Russia and China have already been approved for limited use.

“I actually disagree with this. If you look at Gamaleya’s Russian vaccine, then their vaccine got the license when only 39 people were administered the vaccine in Phase 1 and Phase 2. Okay. This is not the correct way. It just creates mistrust of vaccines. This shouldn’t be done.”, said Dr. Gagandeep Kang.

So, despite a trial on 40,000, some vaccines haven’t been approved yet, and Russia gave a limited approval in 39 only. So, geopolitics is under play as well. They want to put themselves before everyone else here. This is what is happening. Something similar has happened in China, as well. But we should not do this.

By which probable date can we say everything will go back to normal? The big vaccination programs, immunization programs take years to conduct.

How many years does it take for the vaccine to develop and finally be made accessible to the common folk?

All the companies have already started manufacturing before the trial results are out. This is called “at-risk manufacturing”. We don’t know whether these vaccines will work or not. But if our results are favorable, then whenever we get the license, we can supply the vaccine.

50 million doses of Pfizer and Moderna are ready as of now. The license has not been issued yet, but the doses are ready.

How soon can the license be issued if everything is on track…everything is on time?

It will be issued this month. Some people will get immunization this month, but this is trickled. After this, other vaccines will be licensed, and by the middle of 2021, we will see many vaccines. Almost 3, 4, 5 vaccines will be licensed, and their supply will be rolled out.

By the middle of 2021, you may think that people in India too will start to get the vaccines. They will definitely get it! The Indian government is already expecting that by July 2021, they will get 400-500 million doses of the vaccine. Consequently, 20-25 crore people will be vaccinated in India by July 2021.

But when should herd immunity start working, i.e., when will we administer this vaccine to 80% of people in India?

Most likely, the end of 2022, because this vaccine will be given in phases. It will not necessarily be one vaccine; it could be 2-3 products in the program probably. So, it will take some time…but by the end of 2022, I think we should have most of the country immunized.


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