India's Covaxin

Covaxin is an inactivated vaccine which means that it is made up of killed coronaviruses, making it safe to be injected into the body. Bharat Biotech used a sample of the Coronavirus, isolated by India's National Institute of Virology. Covaxin is also one of the only vaccines to have begun clinical testing on younger age groups.

Whether or not Covaxin fares better than other vaccines, or is capable of mounting a better immuno-response is subject to trials and analysis. However, from what has been seen, Covaxin is capable of heightening antibody response for up to several weeks after initial vaccination, which may mean that it can dole out better immuno-response right now. As per the Lancet analysis, Covaxin was able to induce high neutralizing antibodies that remained stable for all participants three months after administrating the two-dose regime.[1]

Background

India's Covaxin, the homegrown government-backed vaccine, has an efficacy rate of 81%, preliminary data from its phase 3 trial shows. India's regulators gave the vaccine an emergency approval in January 2021 while the third phase of the trial was still under way, sparking scepticism and questions from experts. The drug regulator also gave the green light to the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, known as Covishield in India, to be used.

India also supplied the vaccine to neighbouring countries and a host of other nations. It has shipped tens of thousands of free doses of Covid-19 vaccines to several countries in what is being widely described as "vaccine diplomacy". The country is a vaccine powerhouse: it makes 60% of the world's vaccines and is home to half a dozen major manufacturers.[2]

How does Covaxin work?

Bharat Biotech, a 24-year-old vaccine maker, has a portfolio of 16 vaccines and it exports to 123 countries. Covaxin is an inactivated vaccine which means that it is made up of killed coronaviruses, making it safe to be injected into the body. Bharat Biotech used a sample of the coronavirus, isolated by India's National Institute of Virology. When administered, immune cells can still recognise the dead virus, prompting the immune system to make antibodies against the pandemic virus. The two doses are given four weeks apart. The vaccine can be stored at 2C to 8C.

What was the controversy around Covaxin?

It all began when the regulator in January 2021 said the vaccine had been approved for "restricted use in emergency situations in public interest as an abundant precaution, in clinical trial mode, especially in the context of infection by mutant strains". Experts wondered how a vaccine was cleared for emergency use by millions of vulnerable people when its trials were still underway. The All India Drug Action Network at the time said that it was "baffled to understand the scientific logic" to approve "an incompletely studied vaccine". It said that there were "intense concerns arising from the absence of the efficacy data".

Both the manufacturer and drug regulator had defended Covaxin, saying it was "safe and provides a robust immune response". Bharat Biotech had said that Indian clinical trial laws allowed "accelerated" authorisation for use of drugs after the second phase of trials for "unmet medical needs of serious and life-threatening diseases in the country". It had promised to provide efficacy data for the vaccine by February, which it has now done.

Which countries have signed up for India's vaccine

India has so far shipped 58 million doses of vaccines to 71 countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and Africa. The recipient countries include UK, Canada, Brazil and Mexico.

Covaxin has been exported so far - some in the form of "gifts", others in line with commercial agreements signed between the vaccine makers and the recipient nations, and the rest under the COVAX scheme, which is led by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and hopes to deliver more than two billion doses to people in 190 countries in less than a year.

Zimbabwe approves and receives Covaxin donation from India

On 5 March 2021 it was reported that Zimbabwe authorised the use of India's first indigenous Covid-19 vaccine, Covaxin. With this, Zimbabwe became the first African country to authorise the use of the two-dose, whole virion, inactivated virus vaccine that has been developed from scratch in India by Bharat Biotech and the Indian Council for Medical Research-National Institute of Virology, Pune (ICMR-NIV).[3]

Zimbabwe received the first batch of 35 000 Indian Covaxin donated by the Government of India on 29 March 2021 in fulfillment of its pledge made in February 2021. Covaxin uses inactivated or killed viruses to generate immune response in the recipient.[4]




References

  1. [1], The Herald, Published: 30 March, 2021, Accessed: 30 March, 2021
  2. [2], BBC World News, Published: 9 March, 2021, Accessed: 30 March, 2021
  3. Swati Bharadwaj, [3], The Times of India, Published: 5 March, 2021, Accessed: 30 March, 2021
  4. [4], Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Service, Published: 29 March, 2021, Accessed: 30 March, 2021