With Drug Controller General of India giving pharma companies the go ahead to conduct human trials for coronavirus vaccines -- to Bharat Biotech for COVAXIN and Zydus Cadila for ZyCov-D -- senior scientist at Vigyan Prasar (New Delhi) Dr TV Venkateswaran claimed that "none of these vaccines is [are] unlikely to be ready for mass use before 2021". ICMR had recently claimed that an indigenous Indian vaccine could be ready as early as August 15.
Dr Venkateswaran's article, which was released by the Press Information Bureau on July 5, spoke about how indigenous Indian COVID19 vaccines are in the global race to end the pandemic. However, the Ministry of Science and Technology was quick to retract the statement and issued the same note, without mentioning that none of them would be ready by at least 2021.
On July 3, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said that India was aiming to launch the world's first COVID-19 vaccine by August 15. It sent a letter to 12 hospitals selected for conducting clinical trials on the indigenously developed candidate COVAXIN and had asked for clinical trials to be fast-tracked and volunteers be enroled, by July 7. Experts soon commented that the timeline to develop a vaccine and complete three crucial phases of clinical trials in six weeks was "scientifically impossible" and "unrealistic".
A day later, in a clarification the premier medical research institute said: "ICMR's process is exactly in accordance with the globally accepted norms to fast-track the vaccine development for diseases of pandemic potential wherein human and animal trials can continue in parallel." However, ICMR has not said anything about how it intends to launch the vaccine by August 15.
Six Indian companies are working on COVID-19 vaccines, with inputs from ICMR and Pune-based National Institute of Virology (NIV) and Hyderabad-based Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CSIR).
Meanwhile, Dr Venkateswaran mentioned in his article that a vaccine for the novel coronavirus can be developed anywhere in the world, but without the involvement of Indian manufacturers, it would not be feasible to achieve the required production quantity. India is responsible for manufacturing 60 percent of vaccines globally.
The article also spoke about leading candidates AZD1222 developed by Jenner Institute of University of Oxford and licenced to AstraZeneca and MRNA-1273 vaccine which is being developed by Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute, which will be manufactured by US-based Moderna pharmaceutical. "Both these firms have already inked an agreement with Indian manufacturers for production of the COVID vaccines," the article noted.Parallelly, Indian institutions have engaged in R&D for the development of vaccines in India. With the primary scientific inputs coming from institutions like NIV and CSIR, six Indian companies are working on a vaccine for COVID-19. Along with the two Indian vaccines -- COVAXIN and ZyCov-D -- 11 out of 140 vaccine candidates have entered the human trials across the world.