New Delhi: Corbevax has been made available to the government at a cost of Rs. 145 and Rs. 10 as taxes, the lowest price for a COVID-19 vaccine in the world. Corbevax is the only COVID-19 vaccine to be administered to those in the 12-14 age group. The firm manufacturing the vaccine is Biological E, headed by 44-year-old Mahima Datla, who is one of India’s remarkable business leaders. Under her leadership, Biological E is responsible for inoculating 1 in 2 babies in India with several other vaccinations. Calling Corbevax the “most affordable” vaccine, Ms Datla told NDTV that the affordability of her vaccine was one of the key goals they worked for.
Talking about the challenges the company faced when it came down to developing and scaling up their manufacturing, Ms Datla said that they had three considerations in mind.
First one was obviously to develop a vaccine that works, the second was safety. We wanted to try and test it properly to ensure the vaccine is safe and that we are not introducing more variables into a vaccine when the virus itself provides us with enough challenges. The third was affordability, and this point is directly connected with scale.
Talking of the sheer upscale needed to bring down the cost to this level, she said vaccines involve a huge amount of fixed cost.
The nature of the business is such that you have to invest in facility, trained manpower, power. The majority is fixed cost. So if you are allocating it all to a fewer number of doses, then the cost will obviously go up. We have to think upward of 100 million doses, she explained.
The government will purchase 80 crore doses from Biological E, Ms Datla tells NDTV. She also said that the factor of affordability was kept at the centre of the development of this vaccine.
The vaccine will cost Rs 990 in the market, inclusive of taxes. I have seen numerous occasions when the country’s, government’s or health budget is stressed, so it was our responsibility to make this affordable, she said.
Ms Datla explained that they chose the technology used to manufacture the vaccine on the basis of its scalability and that they already manufacture Hepatitis B vaccine using the technology.
That allowed us to lower the cost further making Corbevax the most affordable in the world.
When asked how effective the vaccine will be against Omicron, the latest strain to emerge across the globe, Ms Datla said it was a ‘difficult question to answer’. Ms Datla said that it was “hard to determine”, since there was no statistical model or “sufficient data”. She explained,
We did a head-to-head comparison with Covishield during the Delta wave. So the evaluation we conducted was against the ancestral strain as well as the Delta strain. Omicron became an issue after we completed the clinical trials. Our preliminary data suggests that our vaccine behaves in a fashion that confers some cross protection.
She also says all companies have been trying to test their vaccines to see how it performs against Omicron. Everybody expects a drop in efficacy, but if the protection levels still remain high, we will still have sufficient coverage, she said.
The scientific community agrees with the conclusion that the higher the antibody, the better chances of preventing severe disease and hospitalisation. So with vaccines we need to ask – are we conferring sufficient amount of antibodies to lower the incidences of severe diseases.
Lastly, Ms Datla says that the firm is aiming to manufacture one billion doses annually and has shared all the required documents with the World Health Organization (WHO) for review and clearance to be an official COVID-19 vaccine.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.