22 Sep 2020: Vaccine expected by early 2021; nationwide immunization a challenge: Scientist
A vaccine for COVID-19 is likely to be ready by early 2021, a leading vaccine scientist has said. However, the real challenge for India would be conducting a vaccination drive for its population of 1.3 billion.
The viral disease has already infected over 55 lakh people nationwide, making India the second worst-hit country. The outbreak continues to worsen.
Vaccine: India currently hosting vaccine trials for major contenders
Pune's Serum Institute of India, the world's largest vaccine manufacturer, is conducting trials for the AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine.
Meanwhile, Dr. Reddy's Laboratories has said it will distribute Russia's vaccine after conducting late-stage trials and obtaining regulatory approval.
Bharat Biotech International Ltd. is also conducting second-phase trials for its vaccine, while Zydus Cadila is yet to receive approvals for third-phase trials.
Timeline: When will a vaccine be ready?
Kang is a professor of microbiology at the Vellore-based Christian Medical College and a member of the WHO's Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety.
She said a vaccine could be ready by early 2021.
Fact: Vaccines currently in phase-3 trials have 50% chance of success
Kang said, "If we get good results by year-end, we're looking at vaccines being potentially available in tiny numbers in first half of 2021 and larger numbers in the latter part." She said any vaccine currently in phase-3 trials has a 50% chance of success.
Challenges: India has no experience with mass immunization across age groups
Kang, who was heading the government committee looking into prospective indigenous vaccine candidates until July, said that India has no local infrastructure to vaccinate people beyond babies and pregnant women.
Notably, India has no experience with mass immunization across age groups and will likely face storage and delivery hurdles even when a vaccine is ready. This could prove particularly challenging for India's remote regions.
Fact: 'We have no way of vaccinating the elderly'
"We have no life cycle immunization structures, we have no way of vaccinating the elderly who are a particular risk group here," Kang told Bloomberg. "Just building the system to be able to immunize all ages is going to be a challenge."
Other hurdles: India's COVID-19 data doesn't specify type of tests used
Separately, the true extent of the outbreak may yet remain underestimated with the use of antigen tests that can report as much as 50% false negatives, the Bloomberg report noted.
The daily COVID-19 bulletin also does not specify how many tests were conducted using the antigen tests or the more sensitive Real Time-Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) tests, Kang pointed out.