US, UK, India’s Serum Institute scale up efforts to roll out Covid-19 vaccine by year-end: All you need to know

The United States, which is the worst-hit nation globally by the Covid-19 pandemic, has promised to pay USD 1.95 billion to purchase 100 million doses of a potential coronavirus vaccine, which is being developed by US pharma giant Pfizer in collaboration with Germany’s Biontech, the German firm said on Wednesday.

“Americans will receive the vaccine for free consistent with the US government’s commitment for free access to Covid-19 vaccines,” the German firm said in a statement. Under the agreement, the United States government has placed an initial order for 100 million doses to be delivered if regulatory approval is granted for the experimental vaccine.

Scientists in a number of countries around the world are involved in a frantic race to develop a vaccine to help stem the worst health crisis that the world has witnessed in over a century. More than 200 candidate vaccines are currently under process with roughly 24 of them at various stages of clinical trials involving human volunteers.

The United States also has an option open to purchase as many as 500 million additional doses, the Biontech statement indicated.

German pharma major Biontech and Pfizer have shortlisted their vaccine candidates down to two frontrunners and are waiting for regulatory approval to begin a mass trial involving 30,000 healthy volunteers, which may happen later this month.

If successful results are achieved and regulatory approvals follow, Pfizer and Biontech are likely to manufacture up to 100 million doses by the end of 2020, and “potentially more than 1.3 billion doses by the end of 2021”. Clinical trials so far have shown that their treatment triggers robust antibody and T-cell immune responses against the coronavirus, according to Biontech.

Closer home, India’s Serum Institute has reportedly already started manufacturing the Oxford vaccine (ChAdOx1 nCoV-19) for coronavirus. The company intends to manufacture two-three million doses by August end, Suresh Jadhav, Executive Director of Serum Institute has said.

The Serum Institute of India on Tuesday said it would be starting trials of the Covid-19 vaccine candidate developed by Oxford University and British pharma major AstraZeneca by the end of August on up to 5,000 Indian volunteers after getting the necessary approval.

The pharma company plans to launch the vaccine by June 2021 if all goes well. The Serum Institute of India is one of the global partners for the production of Britain’s Covid-19 vaccine on a large scale, once it gains regulatory approval.

British pharma major AstraZeneca’s experimental Covid-19 vaccine was found to be safe and has managed to produce a significant immune response in healthy volunteers in the initial stages of clinical trial, according to data released earlier this week. Oxford University also announced satisfactory progress with the vaccine, making it one of the frontrunners among the vaccine candidates being developed around the world.

The experimental vaccine did not display any serious side effects and produced antibody and T-cell immune responses in the volunteers on whom it was tested, according to the results of the clinical trials. Scientists involved in the trials have said the vaccine caused minor side effects more frequently than a control group, but some of these effects could be reduced by taking common paracetamol, with no serious harmful effects from the vaccine The vaccine has been called AZD1222 and was under development by pharma giant AstraZeneca in collaboration with scientists at Britain’s Oxford University. The varsity has tied up with Serum Institute of India to manufacture and supply the vaccine to India and over 60 other countries having a combined population of 3 billion, the company’s management has said.

The new vaccine is a chimpanzee adenovirus viral vector (ChAdOx1) vaccine that expresses the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. It uses a common cold virus (adenovirus) that infects chimpanzees, which has been weakened so that it can’t cause any infection in humans, and then has been genetically modified to code for the spike protein of the human SARS-CoV-2 virus, according to scientists working with the pharma major.

The widely-followed clinical trial is currently at an advanced stage, with ongoing trials in the United Kingdom, Brazil and South Africa.

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