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    ICMR's COVID-19 vaccine symposium: Here's what experts said about vaccine development, distribution and availability

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    ICMR's COVID-19 vaccine symposium: Here's what experts said about vaccine development, distribution and availability

    With the world racing to find a vaccine for COVID-19 and major pharma companies in various phases of human trials, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) held an international symposium on Novel Ideas in Science and Ethics of Vaccines against the virus on July 30. The online symposium was attended by experts from around the world who are mainly involved in the development and distribution of vaccines.
    Here's what some of the top experts who attended the symposium had to say:
    Dr Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (US)
    The American physician and immunologist said, "NIAID-ICM-DBT have been working closely for 30 years through the Indo-US Vaccine Action Plan (VAP). Three weeks ago VAP's expert advisory committee reviewed 11 vaccine programmes being developed in India and how these candidates can be progressed and assessed. Look forward to supporting these vaccine developments.
    "India's private sector has a leading and important role in vaccine manufacturing and as effective vaccine emerges this capacity will be very important."
    He added that NIAID-Moderna has progressed into phase 3 on mRNA, have 80 sites across US where volunteers are enrolling themselves and are looking at additional sites outside of the US. Another mRNA from Pfizer started phase 2 and 3 trials.
    Dr Fauci stressed that specific steps had been taken for the development of a safe and effective vaccine, pursued in a way that development is rapid, but without compromising on safety or science.
    He noted that it was made clear that all vaccine studies will be executed with strong data and safety monitoring boards. We are hopeful that others working on vaccines and trials need to be executed with sufficient rigour to meet global standards.
    "Manufacturers have engaged in large scale vaccine production and are getting a head start. It is an expensive approach, with financial risk, but was needed to shorten the lag time. We are willing to take financial risks during this pandemic, but not willing to put volunteers at risk by cutting corners," Dr Fauci pointed out.
    Balram Bhargav, Director General of ICMR
    In short note, Bhargav said, "The pandemic is going at a devastating pace and the development of a vaccine takes time for trials and ethics. We need the right balance of speed and safety. The current challenges we face are priotisation and fair distribution, logistics, stockpiling and training people who will be delivering the vaccine."
    Vinod Paul, member of the Niti Aayog
    Paul, who is a permanent member of National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog) said that in India, recruitment of volunteers for clinical trials of the Bharat Biotech vaccine is progressing fast. "Zydus's DNA based vaccine is also in progress in the phase 1 clinical trials. We are looking forward to starting phase 3 trials on Oxford's vaccine in India. Our young scientists in national labs have four to five potential vaccine candidates."
    He added that the government was prepared to progress and take the trials from animals, to assays and then to human trials. Any vaccine from India will be safe and effective, and will be driven by best the scientific principles. "We are complying with all equity and human rights ethics and will ensure that the vaccine will be available for the rich and poor alike."
    Peter Piot, Director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
    Piot said: "We need to be realistic, the Sars-Cov2 is becoming endemic and will be with us till either most of us are infected, which is at the cost of millions of lives or we can immunise people with vaccines. It has now not only a public health crisis but also a socio-economic one. Good news is many countries succeeded in bringing disease under control but enormous cost owing to lockdowns. All companies and academic groups are engaged in race for vaccine against virus."
    He added that vaccine trials must be hastened, as we can accelerate funding and bureaucracy, but trials must go through full cycle of test efficacy and safety.
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