Americans develop vaccine that could help humble countries in their fight against the pandemic

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An affordable COVID-19 vaccine developed by US researchers and being produced in India could help address the vaccine inequity that is prolonging the pandemic as hundreds of millions of people live in low-income countries. they await vaccines, according to public health experts.

India recently granted a restricted emergency authorization to the vaccine, called Corbevax, which is based on conventional protein-based technology.

Hyderabad-based Biological E, which collaborated with the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, has said it will produce 100 million doses starting next month and plans to deliver 1 billion doses worldwide.

The company has received reservations of 150 million doses.

There could still be time before Corbevax injections kick in – Indian authorities have yet to add it to the sera currently used in the country’s inoculation program.

However, the affordability of the vaccine is drawing attention, as the furious omicron variant highlights the abysmally low vaccination coverage in many countries and increases the demand for booster vaccines in others.

“We think it will be one of the lowest-cost vaccines out there – a few dollars a dose. Without a doubt, much less than the cost of mRNA vaccines or some of the other technologies, which again is a great advantage ”, explained Dr. Peter Hotez to the Voice of America.

He participated in the development of the vaccine together with Dr. María Elena Bottazzi. They are both co-directors of the Texas Vaccine Development Center.

They argue that the reason for the lower cost of the vaccine is that it is shared without a patent and without “any conditions.”

It could reportedly be the cheapest vaccine available yet, less expensive than the AstraZeneca vaccine that has been the backbone of inoculation programs in India and several other developing countries.

Public health experts are optimistic that the vaccine could make a difference in Asian and African countries where vaccination coverage is abysmally low.

“It is going to be useful in the overall vaccination program in general. As we are still facing the challenge of variants, we will need more vaccines for many more people, and as the West is concerned with giving one booster after another, the rest of the world will have to wait, ”said Srinath Reddy, President of the Health Foundation. Indian public.

Correlation between vaccination and new variants

Health experts note that worrying variants have emerged in countries with low vaccination coverage: the delta variant originated in India last year when most people were not vaccinated and the omicron variant was first identified in South Africa.

“If we ever hope to prevent the emergence of future variants, it means vaccinating the southern hemisphere, vaccinating Asia, Africa and Latin America as quickly as possible, and that is the goal of our vaccine,” Hotez told the VOA.

While the global availability of vaccines has improved with several new vaccines, cost remains a limiting factor.

Health experts note that Astra Zeneca, whose COVID-19 vaccine was billed as the vaccine for the world, said in November that it will restrict its nonprofit model to only the poorest countries.

Meanwhile, despite pressure, Moderna and Pfizer did not agree to license their mRNA technology to developing countries, keeping it out of reach of much of the world.

Many African countries, including some of the largest on the continent such as Nigeria, have so far vaccinated less than 5% of their population. The World Health Organization has been pushing for 70% coverage for all countries by the middle of this year, but this could also be overlooked in many countries.

Corbevax developers say they are talking to manufacturers around the world.

“Now we have relationships with other manufacturers in Indonesia, in Bangladesh, we are working with a company that is building capacity, in many places in Africa, including Botswana and South Africa,” Bottazzi told the VOA. “We are hopeful that we can also transfer this technology to other countries like Vietnam, potentially in Latin America as well.”

However, there are skeptics. While Texas Children Hospital has said the vaccine was found to be safe and well tolerated through phase 3 clinical trials with more than 3,000 subjects, some caution that public data on its clinical efficacy is limited.

“It has yet to be approved by the World Health Organization and we will also need more data to be convinced that it works against omicron,” according to Achal Prabhala of the Access IBSA project, which campaigns for access to medicines in India, Brazil and the United States. South. Africa.

“Also, Corbevax takes longer to produce, so it is not as easy to scale. And the world needs billions of more doses, “he said.

Effectiveness against the omicron

Preliminary research has suggested that many of the existing vaccines do not work to prevent infection against omicron, although they reduce the severity of the disease.

Bottazzi said studies on the efficacy of the omicron vaccine continue. The vaccine is based on a conventional technology used to make the recombinant hepatitis B vaccine that has been in use for several decades.

Experts say that as countries start to switch to vaccine combinations, Corbevax could help low- and middle-income countries expand their programs.

In India, the vaccine is being tested for booster doses and could also be used for export, according to officials.

So far, the boosters will be rolled out starting Monday for healthcare workers and older people with comorbidities with AstraZeneca and a locally developed vaccine.

However, public health experts expect Corbevax to play a role when the country expands the administration of booster injections: Orders for a third injection have been on the rise as the omicron variant spreads rapidly in the country.

* Megan Duzor of VOA contributed to this report.

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