- Vaccine not designed to eradicate virus but to mitigate it: Expert
- Distribution and access to vaccine remains an open-ended question: Expert
- Challenges may arise with manufacturing and scaling of vaccine: Expert
New Delhi: The US-based COVID-19 vaccine candidate, Moderna has begun its phase three trials on 30,000 volunteers. One of United States’ leading doctors, Dr Faheem Younus, Chief of Infectious Diseases in Maryland school of Medicine, tells NDTV in an exclusive interview, that this is an unprecedented development in the history of vaccine development.
This is unprecedented in the history of vaccines. Typically, developing a vaccine is a 5-10-year long journey and to have a vaccine within a year is truly unprecedented. But there are some factors that we must not forget. This a new vaccine, it will not be 100 per cent effective like other vaccines. It is not designed to eradicate the virus but it is designed to mitigate the virus. To slow its attack and perhaps the death rate in the hospitals and then distribution and access remains an open-ended question.
So much to be seen but much to be optimistic about, as well, said Dr Younus.
When asked Dr Younus about other vaccine candidates like the Oxford vaccine, which has been peer-reviewed extensively and published in Lancet Medical Journal, he said that most vaccines will have similar oversight. Dr Younus told NDTV,
I believe most of these vaccines will have similar oversight. I know some people have distrust and they have questions about the safety of these vaccines and if it will be adequately studied or will there be oversight? What is different this time is that there are a lot of people who are trying to do things in parallel rather than sequentially. For instance, there are huge investments in these vaccine companies by the governments to have their factories and their capacities built up, even before they know that this vaccine is going to work or not. And the government is providing those subsidies because we all understand that we are together in this pandemic. So yes, I believe the Moderna vaccine, the Oxford vaccine, they all will have rigorous oversight and regulators like FDA, which would typically take months and years to approve a vaccine, is likely to approve a vaccine within days and weeks. This is due to the pressure of the pandemic.
When it comes to the sample size of 30,000 people, who are subject trial for both Pfizer and Moderna, vaccines, Dr Younus says that it is a good number to gauge the success of a vaccine candidates.
Anything over 10,000 would be robust, anything over 20,000 would be pretty good. Unfortunately, COVID-19 is spreading around in the US and in India and Brazil drastically, so this is a very large number to look for the efficacy and safety of the drug.
Dr Younus further highlighted the importance of genetic diversity among the candidates of the trial. He explains,
If 2 people get the coronavirus, one may have a minor disease, the other may have severe disease. Sometimes it is related to the degree of the viral load. If a million viruses go in my airway vs. a hundred in my neighbour’s airway, of course chances are I’ll be sicker. However, how do we measure the genetic determinants and how do we predict are big questions that we don’t know of today. And I know it’s unsettling, people wish to know answers to all the questions, but the truth is that we don’t know how to predict or measure that genetic determinant as of today.
Talking about the challenges in ensuring a universal immunisation against COVID-19, Dr Younus said that he has not read any official plan as yet. However, he says that challenges may start arising with manufacturing and scaling itself. He explains,
Are we going to have enough of the glass viles to deliver. What kind of refrigeration is this vaccine going to require, will it need – 60 degrees or room temperature? We don’t know that yet, and at the end, another major factor will be social trust – as in how many people are going to trust the vaccine. A sizeable number of people, 20-40 per cent, in the US, are saying they will not even take the vaccine. So to answer your question, there are many barriers ahead of us. It’s most likely to be given to health care workers, the frontline workers first, perhaps nursing homes,
perhaps immunity compromised elderly. And then there will be a phased tier wise distribution of this vaccine.
Dr Younus says that while everyone has reasonable expectations with COVID-19 vaccines, he sees these as decisions that will have to be taken in 2021, but planned ahead. The vaccine may be available by the end of the year, he said adding that he has always said that the COVID-19 pandemic is a two-year event and we’re not even at the half time yet.
Lastly Dr Younus urges everyone to remain cautious, wash their hands, maintain social distancing, wear masks and patiently wait for a vaccine, because at the end of the day, ‘we’re going to win this war against the coronavirus.’
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the currentCOVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water,SanitationandHygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fightmalnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India wheretoiletsare used andopen defecation free (ODF)status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched byPrime Minister Narendra Modiin 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues likeair pollution,waste management,plastic ban,manual scavengingand sanitation workers andmenstrual hygiene.