Emergency Covid-19 Vaccine Could be Ready by Jan-Feb 2021: Former ICMR Chief

Against the backdrop of leading vaccine maker Bharat Biotech partnering with Thomas Jefferson University of Philadelphia to develop a new vaccine candidate for Covid-19 invented at Jefferson, it seems the emergency vaccine for Covid-19 would be available latest by January or February next year, said former director general of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) NK Ganguly.

Emergency Covid-19 Vaccine Could be Ready by Jan-Feb 2021: Former ICMR Chief

Ganguly said most of the vaccine development programmes aim at identifying the genetic code of the spike protein, which has already been identified in this case -- that Sars-CoV-2 uses to enter the human cells.

In the development of the vaccine, this is used to trigger an immune response against subsequent exposure in people who are vaccinated, he added. "Emergency vaccine will be available for use latest by January or February 2021," said Ganguly.

RNA is the genetic material of the viruses and messenger RNA or mRNA vaccines are fully synthetic. After knowing the target antigen's sequence, the production of a vaccine can be accelerated, and this infrastructure could also be utilised by other mRNA vaccines that contain a different sequence.

Ganguly insisted that mRNA synthetic vaccine is quick to develop and with the aid of accelerated clearances from regulatory authorities, the usual time-frame of 5 years could be reduced drastically. Usually, the course of vaccine development, from lab to market, on an average, takes between five to ten years.

According to the National Centre for Biotechnology Information, mRNA vaccines represent a promising alternative to conventional vaccine approaches because of their high potency, capacity for rapid development and potential for low-cost manufacture and safe administration.

Responding to a query on testing capacity of the country, Ganguly said India is testing smart, against the backdrop of 1.3 billion population, unlike South Korea and China.

"The authorities are testing for viruses in clusters and hotspots. 1 lakh tests a day is too less in the context of the 1.3 billion population in the country. There should be at least 1 million tests a week. But, we cannot put all the money and resources in testing, therefore, India's smart testing strategies are fair. Also, India does not have infrastructure like South Korea and China," he said.

Ganguly also insisted that the transmission of the virus is highest in hotspots and clusters, therefore, these areas should be targeted through smart testing.