According to public health experts, an inexpensive COVID-19 vaccine developed by US researchers and produced in India could help address vaccine inequality that is prolonging the pandemic in low-income countries, as millions of people get shots. wait for.
India recently granted restricted emergency authorization to a vaccine, called Corbevax, which is based on a traditional, protein-based technology.
Hyderabad-based company Biological E, which has collaborated with Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development and Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, has said it will make 100 million doses from next month and plans to deliver 1 billion doses globally. making plans. It already has a stockpile of 150 million doses.
There may still be time for Corbevax shots to get into the arsenal – Indian officials have yet to add it to the shots being used in the country’s vaccination program.
As attention is being paid to the affordability of the vaccine, however, the fiery Omron version turns the spotlight on the extremely low vaccination coverage in many countries and fuels demand for booster shots in others.
“We think it will be one of the lowest cost vaccines – a dosage of a few dollars. So certainly much less than the cost of mRNA vaccines or some other technologies, which is again a huge advantage,” Dr. Peter Hotez said. told VOA. He developed the vaccine together with Dr. Maria Elena Botazzi. Both are co-directors at the Texas Vaccine Development Center.
Its developers say the reason for the vaccine’s low cost is that it is being shared patent-free “with no strings attached.” According to reports, this may be the cheapest vaccine available so far – less expensive than the AstraZeneca vaccine which has been the backbone of vaccination programs in India and many other developing countries.
Public health experts are optimistic that the vaccine could make a difference in Asian and African countries where vaccine coverage is extremely low.
“It is going to be helpful in the overall global vaccination programme. As we still face the challenge of variants, we will need more vaccines for many more and as the West is busy delivering booster after booster, the rest of the world is being kept waiting,” K. Srinath Reddy, President of the Public Health Foundation of India.
“Therefore, it is best to use this time-tested technology to produce more vaccines to ensure that more people in other countries can get the vaccine as well. It is a simple, safe technique, something that has been time-tested and adverse effects are very few in number, although they do exist,” he said.
Health experts point out that there have been types of concern 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 .
Hotez told VOA, “If we ever hope to prevent the emergence of future forms, it means vaccinating the Southern Hemisphere, vaccinating Asia, Africa and Latin America as quickly as possible, and that’s the goal.” ”
While world vaccine availability has improved with many new vaccines, cost is still a limiting factor. Health experts point out that Astra Zeneca, whose COVID-19 vaccine was billed as a vaccine for the world, said in November that it would limit its nonprofit model to poor countries only. Meanwhile, despite pressure, Moderna and Pfizer have not agreed to license their mRNA technology to developing countries, leaving it out of reach for 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 is pushing for 70% coverage for all countries by the middle of this year, but that could be missed in many countries.
The developers of Corbevax say they are talking to manufacturers around the world.
“We now have relationships with other manufacturers in Indonesia, in Bangladesh – we are working with a company that is building capacity – in several locations in Africa, including Botswana and South Africa,” Bottazzi told VOA. “We hope that we can transfer this technology to other countries such as Vietnam, potentially to Latin America as well.”
However, there are skeptics. While Texas Children’s Hospital states that the vaccine was safe and well tolerated through Phase 3 clinical trials with more than 3,000 subjects, some caution that the public has no doubt about its clinical efficacy. Data is limited.
According to Achal Prabhala at the Access IBSA Project, “It still has to be approved by the World Health Organization and we will also need more data to be sure it works against omicrons,” in India, Brazil and the South. Campaign for Access to Medicines in Africa.
“Also, it takes longer to produce Corbewax, so growing it is not so easy. And the world needs billions more doses,” he said.
Preliminary research has suggested that many existing vaccines do not work to prevent infection against Omicron, although they do reduce disease severity.
Botazzi said that studies of the vaccine’s efficacy against Omicron are ongoing. The vaccine is based on a traditional technology used to make the recombinant hepatitis B vaccine that was in use for several decades.
Experts say that as countries begin to choose vaccine combinations, Corbevax could help low- and middle-income countries expand their programs.
In India, the vaccine is under trial for a booster dose and could be used for export as well, according to officials.
Boosters will be launched Monday for health care workers and senior citizens, along with AstraZeneca and a locally developed vaccine.
However, public health experts expect Corbevax to play a role when the administration of booster shots is widened in the country – with the Omicron variant spreading rapidly in the country, increasing demand for the third shot.
Megan Duzer contributed to this report.