Serum Institute of India recently partnered Codagenix, a US-based biotech drug research company, to develop a coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine. Its Founder-Director Zavaray Poonawalla tells Business Standard that India’s social containment of the epidemic so far has been good. Edited Excerpts:
How is India doing as far as managing the whole social community distancing factor goes, with the advent of the COVID-19? Are our numbers of confirmed cases being under-reported?
I think we are taking it very seriously and perhaps that’s a good thing in a country with the size of our population. In practical terms, people are avoiding crowds, flights have been halted and large events delayed. We have as a country in other spheres shut down activities like cricket, racing and other sporting and business events, and I think we can’t do very much more than that. The numbers we are seeing seem to indicate we are doing better than the rest and while I can’t say if they are being under-reported, I do know that our health care infrastructure is not large enough, which is why over-awareness is a good thing.
How bad is this epidemic so far as India is concerned?
It’s a virus with a big scary name but we have had viruses earlier. Now, a new one has emerged. So it’s getting to be seen as the bad one until it is understood better, and we are indeed doing so day by day. If you recall the swine flu pandemic that emerged in 2009, it was equally terrifying because it was the exact opposite, which is very few young people were immune to it, and it spread from country to country, much faster than the present one. Today, swine flu is more of a seasonal type of flu and can be vaccinated against with part of your annual flu shots.
Why the growing fear and concern about COVID-19in particular then?
Every new virus is more virulent than the other. It takes time to tackle but is not impossible to do so. Awareness about trending topics and the ease of sharing information has also increased over the decades for a number of reasons. That being said, this particular virus as we see is far more virulent towards particularly older people who are already ailing or have a medical condition or immunological issues.
When do you see the Serum Institute registering a vaccine here? How expensive will it be?
I believe we will be faster than anyone else in India when it comes to registering a vaccine here and we hope before the end of 2022. That may sound like its far away but the thing is that it doesn't take very much time to design a vaccine, but something that goes into the human body has to go undergo hundreds of tests and approvals. Animal trials are underway, and human trials which come next are about six months away. Prices for the vaccine in India will be much more affordable than elsewhere, for sure.
So this will be a once a year or a lifetime vaccination?
These sorts of vaccines would likely be administered in addition to a flu vaccine as a booster shot that one takes annually.