Categories
India Latest News

Delay in vaccine export by India to deal blow to poorer nations

New Delhi: Covid-19 vaccination programmes across Africa and much of the developing world will suffer big delays after India, the world’s largest vaccine producer, said that it would not be exporting the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine until the end of the year, The Guardian reported.

The decision is likely to leave the Covax global vaccine-sharing facility, which helps poor countries, facing a shortfall of hundreds of millions of doses, the report said.

“We continue to scale up manufacturing and prioritise India … We also hope to start delivering to Covax and other countries by the end of this year,” Adar Poonawalla, the chief executive of Serum Institute of India (SII), said.

SII had paused deliveries of the AstraZeneca vaccine in March, diverting for domestic use doses that were to be distributed across the developing world. It had been widely hoped that supplies of the AstraZeneca shot, which is suitable for use in countries with weak infrastructure and many poorer countries, would begin again in June or October, the report said.

However, India is battling a wave of infections that has killed more than 283,000 people, according to official figures that many experts believe are substantial underestimates, the report said.

Bangladesh said it urgently needed 1.6 million shots of the AstraZeneca vaccine to provide second doses.

Nepal, which started its vaccination drive in January with 2.35 million AstraZeneca doses provided by India and Covax, also said it had no stocks and more than 1.55 million people were awaiting second doses.

US President Joe Biden said that the US would export at least 20 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson shots, on top of 60 million AstraZeneca doses he had already planned to give to other countries.

Read More
Categories
coronavirus India Latest News

Second wave of Covid and India’s political landscape

By Ramanand and Dhanisha 

A little over a year since India first began its battle with the covid-19 pandemic, and it is apparent to any observer that once again, India is standing more towards the losing half. In March 2020, confronted with the emergence of the virus and simultaneous lack of resources to tackle the same, especially in terms of medical infrastructure, the Indian government opted for a nationwide lockdown. 

Therefore, despite the many negative economic consequences, this hard response did succeed in keeping control of the spread while India acquired the necessary resources and began working on vaccines. Now, the country is in the midst of a grave second wave with cases rising to numbers higher than last year, and the response seems to be lacking. One reason behind this, no doubt, is the heavy influence of politics that seeps into all aspects of life. For instance, the government’s reluctance to impose reasonable restrictions during the flurry of public gatherings took place from August 2020 onwards. 

 

We can take lessons from the state of Kerala. Initial response to COVID-19 by Kerala was claimed as one of the success stories quoted as the state managed to mitigate the crisis and bring down cases rapidly as early as May. However, later found, it was an early celebration because the instances kept rising after that. It has begun with a public gathering celebration of the Onam festival, followed by Christmas later on in December. It is characteristic of politics not directly to intervene with such functions despite the negative long-term impact, and therefore in Kerala, these were celebrated without much restriction. 

Maharashtra is another example where the cases rose and contributed more than 30% in the overall cases. Maharashtra is one of the epicentres of the Covid-19 issues, continuously contributing for the last four months. The political misgovernance and mismanagement have badly hampered the battle against Covid-19 in the state. 

The election is another occasion that has contributed to the current rise of Covid-19 cases. PM Modi is keeping advocating for ‘One Nation, One Election to save time and resources, which we keep spending on the elections. Due to political compulsion, his demand is still pending as many political parties do not agree to this demand. For the implementation of ‘One Nation One Election, some state assemblies must resolve early or come under the president rule.

 

The present rise could be controlled if we would have a system of simultaneous election. The election is one occasion where people rarely follow social distancing norms; it has been validated repeatedly by political parties’ conduct.

The imposition of weekend lockdowns and night curfews is being adopted by many states – Delhi, Maharashtra, Punjab, MP, Uttar Pradesh – in response to the recent surge of cases.

The lockdown again will attack the poor’s livelihood who are employed in restaurants, hotels, taxi’s or employed/self-employed in other dependents fields.

The response to the second wave brings about two important considerations. First, the role played by politics, in terms of the surface level politics of governance in the face of rising cases and times of the entire political process contributing to this rise during rallies, campaigns and misgovernance of some states. 

Second, noting that India’s vaccine diplomacy’s criticism in terms of doses exported also comes from the political blame game. In troubling times, one cannot afford to be selfish, and in extending vaccines to other countries, India is far from it, and the efforts should thus be recognized.

(The Op-Ed appeared in The Times of India)

Read More
Categories
coronavirus India Latest News

India’s vaccine strategy is based on science

By Vijay Chauthaiwale

India has been undertaking the world’s largest vaccination drive. In less than three months, we have managed to provide more than 100 million doses across the country, which is more than the population of Germany. The country has already achieved one of the highest daily vaccinations per day across the globe with 4.3 million vaccinations, which is close to the population of New Zealand. 

India has also achieved the fastest rate of reaching the 100 million vaccination milestone, ahead of the United States (US) and China. Our daily vaccination rates are also among the highest in the world. This doesn’t mean that there is no scope for improvement. Of course, we need to expand capacity and continue innovating, which has been our approach throughout the pandemic.

In the beginning, there are two insinuations — first, that there is a vaccine crunch, and, second, that everyone immediately needs a vaccine. We must understand that vaccines are a scarce commodity in the world. They are not like candies which can be manufactured, supplied, and consumed any time and anywhere. 

That is why India, as well as other countries, decided to prioritise groups which are vulnerable. The primary purpose of vaccination is mortality reduction and decreasing the burden on the health care system. This was laid down by the government in 2020 itself.

India has set a target of vaccinating around 300 million vulnerable citizens by August, and we are very much on course to achieve that. There is no supply crunch when it comes to achieving this target.

Here, it is also important to understand that vaccines are a preventive tool which works after a lag period of six to 10 weeks. It is not a treatment to be administered to reduce the case-load in the middle of a wave. To focus only on vaccines and not pay attention to ramping up testing, tracing and proper treatment will be counterproductive.

At this rate, shall we make the vaccination programme more targeted and focus on high-rises and slums within cities? Shall we focus more on malls and markets given the high density of people found here? Is there a successful display of this strategy anywhere in the world? However provocative the argument is, when a government decides on a strategy, it needs to be both equitable and feasible. 

Adding additional layers of complexity is neither feasible nor desirable.

(The Op-Ed appeared in The Hindustan Times)

Read More
Categories
India Latest News

Adverse events following immunization low: India

New Delhi: The Union Health Ministry said that a total of 4,54,049 people have been inoculated since the commencement of the vaccination drive, and only 0.18 per cent of beneficiaries developed adverse events following immunization, while 0.002 per cent were hospitalized.

“The adverse events following immunization are fairly low. In fact, these are the lowest in the world in the first three days. In India, we have an extremely robust system of adverse events following immunization reporting and management,” said Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan in a bid to allay fears and vaccine hesitancy.

According to the government’s data, 580 adverse events have been reported so far, out of which seven required hospitalization.

“Only 0.18 per cent of beneficiaries developed adverse events following immunization, while 0.002 percent were hospitalized,” the Health Secretary said.

“There are mild AEFI, severe AEFI, and serious AEFI. In India, anxiety or hysteria is also recorded. We must dispel this notion that AEFI means that people have lost consciousness and were hospitalized. If post-vaccination, I have a crying bout, even that is captured. It may add to the number but it subsides.”

He also said that deaths of two men in Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka following immunization were found to be not related to the vaccination.

A 52-year-old man from Uttar Pradesh’s Moradabad district died due to cardiopulmonary disease one day after being vaccinated, while a 43-year-old resident of Karnataka’s Bellary died due to cardiopulmonary failure two days later.

The nation-wide vaccination drive had kick-started on January 16.

Read More
Categories
coronavirus India Latest News

The uncertainty over vaccine authorization

By Karan Thapar

Just when we needed clarity, we ended up with controversy. When we want simple, straightforward answers, we are receiving confused and conflicted responses. Consequently, the authorization of two vaccines to tackle Covid-19 has been met with as much consternation as celebration. For many, the doubts and questions that have arisen have created fresh concern.

To get a good grasp of the situation, you can’t do better than listen to Prof Gagandeep Kang. She’s considered India’s top vaccine scientist. She’s also a Fellow of the United Kingdom’s prestigious Royal Society, and a recipient of our own acclaimed Infosys Prize. Her views clash with two of the government’s top doctors, Balram Bhargava and Vinod Paul, but her clarity is exemplary. Also, she has no axe to grind. Bhargava is part of the Covaxin project. That’s why it’s worth hearing Kang before you make up your mind.

Kang questions the emergency-use clearance for Covaxin.

She says the precedent set by the Ebola and Nipah vaccines, which were cleared without completing Phase 3 trials and obtaining efficacy data, does not apply to Covid-19. This is both because of differences in their mortality rates as well as the fact we have other licenced products to tackle Covid-19. “I would ask why would you want to give a vaccine without emergency-use authorization in these circumstances?” she asks.

Kang also casts doubt on the Bhargava/Paul claim that Covaxin has been cleared because it could be better at tackling new strains of the virus. “I wish we had data to establish this,” she says. “At the moment we don’t.” The Bhargava/Paul claim is simply a “hypothesis”.

Kang says she’s “really confused” Covaxin has been cleared for use “in clinical trial mode”. She’s “not sure what that means”. It suggests people given this vaccine could end up being part of its continuing clinical trials. Of course, that will only happen with their consent but it’s not what they intended. They want a guaranteed vaccine. Not to be part of the process by which that guarantee is established.

Finally, when asked if she would be prepared to take Covaxin, Kang said while she was willing to participate in the clinical trial of any vaccine — as her personal contribution to science — she would not take Covaxin until its Phase 3 trials are complete and the required efficacy data made public.

Kang has stolen a march by speaking out comprehensively and forthrightly. Most others have spoken in sound bites. Now that she’s explained her position, we can only benefit from it. Of course, it’s up to us to agree or disagree. Not being experts, we’re unlikely to do so with conviction. But her views can only help.

(The opinion piece appeared in The Hindustan Times)

Read More
Categories
Health Latest News

Managing the COVID-19 crisis: The India Story

By Amit Kumar,
Consul General of India in Chicago 

As we inch towards the end of 2020, it is time to assess India’s COVID-19 response and the outlook for the future. Recent developments suggest cause for optimism, underpinned by Government’s steadfast efforts under PM Narendra Modi’s decisive leadership on several fronts.

Last week, an Indian Covid19 vaccine – Covaxin – entered phase 3 of clinical trials. Altogether, there are six Indian vaccines under different stages of development. PM Modi recently visited Zydus Biotech Park in Ahmedabad, Bharat Biotech in Hyderabad and Serum Institute of India in Pune to encourage scientists to accelerate vaccine development efforts. India, with its large pharmaceutical and vaccine manufacturing base, will play a critical role in meeting global demand for COVID19 vaccines.

So how did India fare? Comparing national responses of different countries to COVID-19 is undoubtedly not an easy proposition given that circumstances vary. As of 28 November, India has 6731 cases per million population, which is 4-5 times less compared to the leading economies in the western world. Our fatality case ratio remains amongst the lowest.

What explains this better response? India was amongst the fastest to react at the government level. China notified the world on 7 January about the Wuhan virus. The Indian government held a Mission meeting on 8 January itself, started screening passengers from 17 January, implemented containment measures on 30 January and was amongst the first to introduce rapid antigen along with RT-PCR tests.

PM Modi held close consultations with the Chief Ministers of all States to brief them and forged consensus on how to respond to this unprecedented challenge. This was particularly important since States under our federal structure are responsible for tackling health challenges. A complete lockdown was declared on 24 March, which was relaxed gradually in phases beginning in end-May. People of India responded positively to the PM’s call for lockdown, observing social distancing, wearing masks and following safety protocols.

Early lockdown, when India had only 500 cases, was very important to contain the exponential spread of Covid19; more crucially, it allowed the government to ramp up medical infrastructure and train healthcare professionals including over 1.5 million ASHA workers. We created more than 15,350 dedicated Covid19 health facilities, 15.4 lakhs isolation beds, 2.7 lakhs oxygen supported beds, 78,000 ICU beds and tripled the number of ventilators.

It was inevitable that the extensive lockdown would negatively impact the economy in the short-term. The government had to strike a balance between public health, continuation of essential services and preparing ground for broader economic revival. Government took several measures to ensure that ‘disruption’ did not become ‘distress’ for the poor. Around 42 crore people received financial assistance of Rs.69000 crores credited directly into their bank accounts, a feat made possible by the ambitious Jan Dhan Yojana. Nearly 80 crore people received free grains and pulses till November.

Looking at the recent economic indicators in India, one cannot but be buoyed by them, a sentiment also reflected in the stock markets. Manufacturing Purchasing Managers index (PMI) rose from 56.8 in September to 58.9 in October 2020, registering its highest figure in over a decade. The PMI Services index also rose to 54.1 in October, ending seven months of contraction, signaling improved market conditions. October figures for power consumption, passenger vehicle & domestic tractor sales, E-way bills, GST collections, railway freight all show growing demand and significant resumption of economic activity cutting across sectors.

COVID19 has posed an unprecedented global challenge. It has upended the way in which we live and work. In the backdrop of potential COVID19 vaccines hitting the market soon and downward trend in COVID19 cases, economic indicators already show that we are turning the corner in the fight against the pandemic. Indian government’s response to COVID19 was proactive, well thought, balanced, and is already showing early positive results. It is also a tribute to our federal polity, the commitment of our essential workers, government functionaries and S&T professionals and resilience of our people, who rose to the challenge.

Read More
Categories
India Latest News

PM Modi takes 3 city tour in a day to review vaccine work

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday visited Ahmedabad, Hyderabad and Pune to review coronavirus vaccine development work there.
The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said the day-long visit was aimed at getting a first-hand perspective of the preparations, challenges and roadmap in India’s endeavor to vaccinate its citizens.
Modi began by visiting pharma major Zydus Cadila’s manufacturing facility near Ahmedabad. Wearing a PPE kit, he reviewed the vaccine development process at the company’s research center, located over 20 km from Ahmedabad.
Modi was extensively briefed about the vaccine work at the plant by the company officials. He was briefed about the vaccine production procedure. He interacted with scientists and vaccine developers, an official said.
“Visited the Zydus Biotech Park in Ahmedabad to know more about the indigenous DNA based vaccine being developed by Zydus Cadila. I compliment the team behind this effort for their work. Government of India is actively working with them to support them in this journey,” Modi tweeted after the visit.
Zydus Cadila chairman Pankaj Patel recently said the company is aiming to complete the vaccine trial by March 2021, and could produce up to 100 million doses a year.
Modi spent over an hour at the plant, before leaving for the airport, from where he left for Hyderabad at 11.40 am.
Modi landed at Hakimpet Air Force station near Hyderabad around 1 pm and proceeded to pharma major Bharat Biotech’s vaccine manufacturing facility at Genome valley, located around 20 km from the air station, by road.
At the facility, he reviewed the progress of Covaxin, a vaccine candidate being developed by the company. He also interacted with Bharat Biotech Chairman and Managing Director Krishna Ella, scientists and senior management.
“At the Bharat Biotech facility in Hyderabad, was briefed about their indigenous COVID-19 vaccine. Congratulated the scientists for their progress in the trials so far. Their team is closely working with ICMR to facilitate speedy progress,” Modi tweeted after his hour-long visit there.
Covaxin, being developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research and National Institute of Virology, is undergoing phase-3 trials.
At 3.20 pm, Modi took off for Pune, where he landed at 4.30 pm. From the airport, Modi proceeded by helicopter to the Serum Institute of India (SII) at Manjari, located 17 km from the airport.
Modi interacted with scientists at the Serum Institute of India and went around the facility, taking stock of vaccine development work being carried out there, before leaving for the Pune airport around 6 pm on the way back to Delhi. 
Modi’s visit to SII was aimed at reviewing the progress of the vaccine candidate for coronavirus and to know about its launch, production and distribution mechanism, an official said. Serum Institute of India has partnered with pharma giant AstraZeneca and Oxford University for the vaccine.

Read More
Categories
coronavirus Latest News

Serum Institute’s Adar Poonawalla warns millions globally won’t get Covid vaccines till 2024

By The SATimes News Service

Adar Poonawalla, the chief executive of Serum Institute of India (SII), has warned there won’t be enough vaccines against the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) for everyone in the world till the end of 2024, according to a report on Monday.

The CEO of the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer has estimated that the world will need around 15 billion doses of the Covid-19 shot if it is a two-dose vaccine. “It’s going to take four to five years until everyone gets the vaccine on this planet,” Poonawalla told the Financial Times.

The Pune-based pharma firm has partnered with five international pharmaceutical firms, including AstraZeneca and Novavax, to develop a Covid-19 vaccine and committed to producing one billion doses, of which it has pledged half to India.

Poonawalla’s remarks came a day after Union health minister Harsh Vardhan said a vaccine against the coronavirus disease would be ready by early next year. “It may be ready by the first quarter of next year,” he had said.

On SII’s word to produce a billion doses, he said that the commitment far exceeded the capacity of other vaccine producers. “I know the world wants to be optimistic on it… [but] I have not heard of anyone coming even close to that [level] right now,” he told the business daily in a video call from London.

The Financial Times reported that as part of SII’s agreement with AstraZeneca, the firm will aim to produce vaccine doses that cost around $3 for 68 countries and under its agreement with Novavax, for 92 countries.

The company may also partner with Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute to manufacture the Sputnik vaccine, according to the newspaper.

Last week, human trials of the Oxford vaccine candidate by AstraZeneca were halted after a volunteer fell sick in the UK following which the Serum Institute of India also paused the trials as it was issued a show-cause notice by the Drug Controller of India. The trials, however, have resumed in Britain. (Source: hindustantimes.com)

Read More