Not since the first successful polio vaccine in 1955 has the world awaited a vaccine with so much hope as it is doing for Covid-19. The virus, Sars-Cov2, and the candidate vaccines are charging ahead at a speed that’s unparalleled.  

As of 11 June, more than 7.25 million people were infected by the virus globally. And as per the World Health Organization’s (WHO) updated list of potential vaccines, there are 10 candidates in clinical development, 123 in preclinical evaluation. 

The race for a vaccine is intensifying; countries are betting not just financial but immense political capital on an antidote to the virus. Even with a low number of tests at 3,797 per million, India ranks fourth in the number of cases globally. It may end up with the most severe economic and public health burdens before the pandemic peters out. However, there’s one front where India can do better than many countries—vaccines.

India has a chance to leverage its local private vaccine manufacturing experience and its public immunisation infrastructure to plan for Covid vaccines, whenever they are ready for use. So far, five experimental vaccines from China, four from the United States, and one from the UK are under clinical testing. Most infectious disease experts believe it could take anywhere between 12-18 months before a vaccine enters the market. 

Yet some groups are racing to produce a first batch by late 2020 or early 2021. US President Donald Trump has named his accelerated vaccine program accelerated vaccine program The New York Times Trump Picks Ex-Drug Company Executive to Lead Accelerated Coronavirus Vaccine Effort Read more  “Operation Warp Speed” for a reason. For both China and the US, an effective Covid vaccine is about political bragging rights as much as it is about a quicker path to economic recovery.  

Incidentally, Indian vaccine manufacturers are placed squarely in the middle of this political crossfire. They support 70% of the supply chain of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which vaccinates 49% of children globally.   

“India is reasonably well-placed [to supply]. Whichever vaccine is approved, it will have to go through Indian manufacturers,” says a senior executive of an Indian vaccine company who doesn’t want his company to be identified in any way. “People generally still don’t trust Chinese vaccines due to quality issues in the past… We are talking a few billion doses for Covid; no one company can make that. UK drug company AstraZeneca has committed committed AstraZeneca AstraZeneca advances response to global COVID-19 challenge as it receives first commitments for Oxford’s potential new vaccine Read more  one billion doses [through 2021], but it doesn’t say it has made one billion doses in the past.” Even at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), another vaccine giant in the race, all its vaccine capacity put together would make only one billion doses, he says. 


Seema Singh

Seema has over two decades of experience in journalism. Before starting The Ken, Seema wrote “Myth Breaker: Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw and the Story of Indian Biotech”, published by HarperCollins in May 2016. Prior to that, she was a senior editor and bureau chief for Bangalore with Forbes India, and before that she wrote for Mint. Seema has written for numerous international publications like IEEE-Spectrum, New Scientist, Cell and Newsweek. Seema is a Knight Science Journalism Fellow from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a MacArthur Foundation Research Grantee.

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