In the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, any vaccines against the novel coronavirus will be vetted for their effectiveness before a deal is signed between the Union Government and the prospective supplier in question.
The announcement comes amidst the global race for a COVID-19 vaccine, which has seen numerous manufacturers producing and assessing vaccine candidates. On August 24th, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that, in its COVAX initiative – jointly led by the WHO, GAVI, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) – 172 economies were engaged in discussions to participate.
COVAX forms what the WHO describes as “the vaccines pillar of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator.” The agency outlines that COVAX’s “aim is to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world.” ACT-Accelerator, the WHO and partner organisations outline, “the only global initiative offering a solution to speed up the end of the COVID-19 pandemic…it combines public and private sector expertise and institutions from around the world to accelerate the development, regulatory approval, scale-up, delivery and equitable allocation of COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines.”
Guaranteeing equitable access to vaccines against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) or, simply, coronavirus – which causes the disease COVID-19 – is indeed a public health and moral imperative. However, ensuring the efficacy of the vaccine candidates in question is arguably of equal importance. Hence, the Union Government’s declaration that it will vet vaccine candidates before any agreements are inked is a wise one.
As Divya Rajagopal and Teena Thacker write for the ET Bureau, “this is the time when realism in vaccine development and distribution will be setting in, as vaccine candidates reach the dotted line for approval, several pharma industry executives said. India has yet to announce any plans of buying vaccines from the companies that are manufacturing them. There are currently four vaccine candidates in the advanced trial stage in the country.”
The need for COVID-19 vaccines’s efficacy to be proven has already made its way into the public discourse. The announcement by the Russian government of its own domestically-produced vaccine Sputnik-V – which was reported earlier this week to have been administered to more than 3,000 people in the national capital Moscow – ignited a global firestorm. Controversy, as I reported for Health Issues India, was engendered by the announcement by Russian President Vladimir Putin that “a vaccine against coronavirus has been registered for the first time in the world this morning. I know that it works quite effectively, it forms a stable immunity.”
Putting aside as to whether the controversy was just or unjust (a dichotomy I explore in my article), the outcry from across the globe did point to the need for the rigour of scientific standards and evidence to be applied to any COVID-19 vaccine. Hesitancy when it comes to vaccines is a major health challenge, not only in the COVID-19 context but when it comes to vaccines for a range of other conditions and viruses ranging from measles to the human papillomavirus.
As a case in point, following the announcement of Sputnik-V, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) director Dr Randeep Guliera told The Hindustan Times that “if Russia’s vaccine is successful, then we will have to see critically whether it is safe and effective. There should not be any side effects of the vaccine and it should provide good immunity and protection.” This is clearly aligned with the position of the Government that any vaccine candidate must be vetted for its efficacy. This position, clearly, is for good reason.