COVID vaccine likely by mid-’21: WHO scientist Soumya Swaminathan

Soumya Swaminathan hints at further delay

Updated - August 04, 2020 09:56 pm IST

Published - August 04, 2020 09:06 pm IST - HYDERABAD

Dr. Soumya Swaminathan.

Dr. Soumya Swaminathan.

The whole world is waiting with bated breath for the emergence of a magical vaccine to save humanity from COVID pandemic. Various estimates about the probable date to receive the vaccines are given by experts. Stating that a realistic timeline to start receiving first million doses of COVID vaccine is mid-2021, World Health Organization’s Chief Scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan cautioned that it might take longer “as we did not understand the virus completely”.

Speaking at a panel discussion on ‘The Vaccine Race : Balancing Science and Urgency’ moderated by Telangana’s IT and Industries Minister KT Rama Rao held at Genome Valley, Hyderabad, on Tuesday, Dr Swaminathan who participated through online platform said that COVAX initiative aims at having two billion doses of the vaccine by the end of 2021. COVAX Facility is a mechanism to ensure free, rapid and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines across the world.

The situation where a few rich countries bought and stocked vaccines during the H1N1 pandemic in 2009 was recalled during the course of the discussion. She said that if the situation repeats, all of us would fail.

“What we hope to do, as vaccines become available for distribution across the world, is to protect those who are the most vulnerable: the frontline workers, the health workers, the others who are at the highest risk of getting infected, then the vulnerable group within the community and then the rest of the population as the stocks become more and more available,” Dr Swaminathan said. Around 27 vaccines are in clinical trials, and another 150 odd are in pre-clinical testing.

During the course of discussion, KTR sought reasons behind WHO’s Director General (DG) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’s statement on Monday that there is no silver bullet against coronavirus and there might never be.

Responding, Dr Swaminathan said that success is not assured in vaccine development and that we have not understood the virus completely.

“So there is always a possibility that we don't get it right. Or that it takes longer. We may not get it right the first time. And that is why I think the DG is warning people to not believe that the problem is going to be solved in six months or 12 months. We don't know that for sure,” she said. Safety and efficacy of vaccines was emphasised as huge number of people across the world would be administered the vaccine.

Hoping that science involved in vaccine development is not being compromised, Mr Rao asked Dr Krishna Ella, Chairman and Managing Director of Bharat Biotech International Ltd, how is the science to ensure efficacy is followed.

Dr Ella said that that they are following rigorous procedures.“I think ,we are putting a lot of 360 degrees intensive research . And that is where the partnership is helping us with the USA, or the WHO. Everybody has been helping us to look at the critique of the scientific aspect. I can tell you our science is critiqued by the global community,” Dr Ella said.

Ms Mahima Datla, Managing Director and CEO, Vaccines and Branded formulations, Biological E Ltd and Dr K Anand Kumar, managing director, Indian Immunologicals Ltd, also participated in the discussion.

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