Monday, July 12, 2021

World Immunisation Week and COVID-19 – Express Healthcare

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Arvind Sharma, Partner, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co reminds us that vaccination is not a one-stop solution for the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, masks and social distancing are still necessary to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic

The World Immunisation Week is observed in the last week of April every year, with an aim to recognise and encourage the use of vaccines to safeguard people of all ages against diseases. Historically, immunisation has saved millions of lives every year, and is widely accepted as one of the world’s most successful health interventions.

With a view to increase engagement around immunisation, promote importance of vaccination in bringing people together, and improve the health and well-being of all, the theme for the World Immunisation Week 2021 is ‘Vaccines bring us closer’.

It is notable that the World Health Organisation (WHO), as part of the 2021 campaign, has partnered with multiple stakeholders across the world to: (a) increase trust and confidence in vaccines, to increase vaccine acceptance; and (b) to increase investment in vaccines, including routine immunisation, to remove barriers to access.

Over the years, vaccines have safeguarded against diseases that dampened human lives and stifled development. In the short term, vaccines are the only way to assist us in moving closer to a COVID-19 free world, and stride for economic growth.

However, vaccine development is a long and complex process, and often takes ten to 15 years. But with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is race against time. In the US alone, the COVID-19 deaths are worse than World War I, World War II, Vietnam War and 9/11 attack combined. There is a desperate need for affordable vaccines to be developed at a faster pace, and immunise people of all ages in the shortest possible time.

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, many pharma companies and governments have swung into action, kicking off the R&D activities for the COVID-19 vaccine. Further, the WHO established the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) facility to bring nations together to ensure procurement and equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. The COVAX facility aims to accelerate vaccine development by bringing in early investments for developing vaccine candidates, expanding manufacturing capacities and accelerating vaccine production

India, known as the vaccine capital of the world, has pharma companies with a potential to develop 8.2 billion doses of different vaccines per year. Additionally, the cost of manufacturing vaccines in India is relatively low because of affordable workforce and large scale manufacturing facilities. For instance, the cost of a rotavirus vaccine developed by an Indian company is one-fifth of the cost incurred by companies outside India.

India had given emergency use authorisation to use two COVID-19 vaccines – Covishield, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, and Covaxin, manufactured by Bharat Biotech. Recently, the Subject Expert Committee of the Drugs Controller General of India granted approval to Russia’s Sputnik-V vaccine for restricted use in India. India is expected to get five more COVID-19 vaccines by the end of third quarter in 2021.

It is notable that India has allocated Rs35,000 crores for vaccinating its 300 million citizens and Rs2,663 crores towards research and development, in the Union Budget 2021-22. Adequate and timely funding from the government will go a long way in helping vaccine manufacturing companies increase their production, and to achieve vaccination goals at quick pace.

Further, various governments across the world have approved the use of vaccines and are on the path of immunising its citizens in a phased manner – starting from the healthcare workers, senior and vulnerable citizens, and so on. At this stage, efforts should be made by all governments to ensure that the systems for allocation, distribution and vaccination are set up to ensure equal and fair distribution of vaccines to those who are recommended for vaccination.

The role of WHO in providing relevant guidance and technical assistance for vaccine development and immunisation cannot be understated. It must be remembered that vaccination is not a one-stop solution for the COVID-19 pandemic, especially given that the COVID-19 vaccines were developed in the shortest time. Recently, there have been cases of people testing positive despite being vaccinated, and it is understood that the newer mutants and strains of COVID-19 virus have the capacity to break through the immunity shields that COVID-19 vaccines give. Therefore, masks and social distancing are still necessary to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

(Views expressed are author’s personal and original.)

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