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India Coronavirus Dispatch: Can govt handle global demand for vaccines?

A variant that escapes three antibodies, extra measures to inoculate an adult population, a look at the cold-chain network-news relevant to India's fight against Covid-19

Coronavirus | Coronavirus Tests | Coronavirus Vaccine

Bharath Manjesh  |  New Delhi 

Coronavirus, vaccine, covid, drugs, clinical trials
The government is grappling with immense demand from other countries to provide vaccines

India faced with challenge to balance local and global demand for vaccines

India's central government is staring at a herculean task to inoculate at least hundreds of millions of people of its 1.3 billion population. At the same time, the government is grappling with immense demand from other countries to provide vaccines produced by vaccine maker Serum Institute of India (SII), the world's largest, a report in Deutsche Welle said.

Many countries, including Brazil, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar, Bangladesh and South Africa have already made official requests for vaccines manufactured in India. South Africa has placed an order for 1.5 million shots from SII, while Brazil requested 2 million doses. PM Modi has said India, the world's largest vaccine manufacturer by volume, will be a major supplier of Covid-19 vaccines globally in the coming months.

SII declined to confirm the names of countries that have placed orders or when the firm plans to supply them. However, an SII official told Deutsche Welle that the rollout in India is a priority and to "help our own people".

mutant that escapes three antibodies

A variant that has a mutation that allows it to evade three antibodies exists in India, genomic surveillance has revealed, according to a report in The Telegraph.

The mutation named E484, has been spotted in several other countries but has been discovered in only two patients in Maharashtra's Raigad and Thane. Scientists at the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB), New Delhi, have identified 19 variants circulating in India that are capable of dodging antibodies. But, E484 is the only one discovered so far that can dodge multiple antibodies. The scientists called this "worrying". 6,300 novel coronavirus genome sequences have been deposited so far in an Indian database.

The mutation is a source of worry as vaccines are designed to trigger an immune response that generates antibodies to block the entry of virus matter into human cells. This in turn prevents the virus from replicating itself and causing disease. Vinod Scaria, a doctor-turned-scientist at the IGIB, told The Telegraph that no coronavirus mutations anywhere so far are known to dodge vaccine-induced immunity. But, we need to watch out for such mutations, he cautioned. Read more here

Does inoculating an adult population need any special preparation?

The pandemic has brought on a need to immunise adult population, and therefore the government has made special preparations to handle the vaccination drive, the head of the operations research group of the ICMR’s national task force for Covid-19 Dr N K Arora told The Hindu.

India has an existing vaccine safety surveillance network. This network extends up to every district where a panel of doctors and health workers monitor adverse events after a vaccine is administered, investigate and report to state and national level medical authorities, Arora told The Hindu.

But, the pandemic has necessitated vaccination of the adult population. Therefore, the government has now involved cardiologists, neurologists, general physicians and pulmonologists at national, state, and district-level committees of the vaccine safety surveillance network. Read more here

A look at the cold-chain network readied for the rollout

As the Indian government gears up to start vaccinating its population from Saturday, this report in Aljazeera provides a look into the cold-chain logistics prepared to handle the unprecedented drive.

A total of 29,000 cold-chain points, 45,000 ice-lined refrigerators, 41,000 deep freezers, 300 solar refrigerators, 240 walk-in coolers, 70 walk-in freezers have been readied to store the vaccines intact. The country also has four huge depots to take delivery of the vaccines and transport them to state distribution centres in temperature-controlled vans, the report said. Read more here

'Vaccine diplomacy' underway in South Asia

"Vaccine diplomacy" is well underway in South Asia, with India believed to be providing about 10 million shots to all the countries in South Asia, except Pakistan, an opinion piece in ThePrint said.

India is also believed to be providing vaccines to several countries in its extended neighbourhood like Myanmar, Mauritius and Seychelles. Finishing touches are being put on many of these vaccine pacts in real-time, the author said.

Meanwhile, China is carrying out its own vaccine push into South Asia. In the first week of the year, China organised an online dialogue in which five South Asian countries participated. India, Bhutan, and the Maldives did not. In terms of pre-orders, for now at least, China's vaccines such as Sinovac and Sinopharm are losing the race to Western vaccines like Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca. The pandemic has given a new spin to foreign policies of nations, the author said. Read more here

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First Published: Wed, January 13 2021. 15:26 IST