India’s role in combating COVID-19 through vaccine development and manufacturing

India’s role in combating COVID-19 through vaccine development and manufacturing

By B.Vanlalvawna, Ambassador of India, Baku

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted India’s position as a reliable stakeholder in global healthcare supply chains with major strengths in manufacturing, Research and Development (R&D), and innovation. India has acted as the 'Pharmacy of the World' by extending medical and other assistance to over 150 countries in the fight against COVID-19. Today, India is a leader in vaccine R&D and 60% of global vaccine production comes from India.

As global efforts to contain and eliminate the pandemic intensify, the fact that universal immunization is amongst the most effective and economical health interventions ever devised has found new relevance. Towards this end, about 30 groups across academia and industry in India are actively involved in COVID-19 vaccine development. Two vaccines, 'Covishield' of AstraZeneca-Oxford-Serum Institute and 'Covaxin' of Bharat Biotech have already received Emergency Use Authorization and AstraZeneca-Oxford-Serum Institute is being currently dispensed in the largest COVID vaccination program in the world. Additionally, six vaccine candidates, including 3 indigenously developed, are in clinical trials.

India has also taken steps to support its neighbors. The Ministry of External Affairs and the Department of Biotechnology are working together on Partnerships for Advancing Clinical Trials (PACT) to strengthen capacities for facilitating phase III clinical trials of Indian COVID-19 vaccines in neighboring and other friendly nations. Two training modules with nearly 6 sessions have been successfully completed for around 100 participants from Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Maldives, Mauritius, Nepal, Sri Lanka. Supply of vaccines under grant assistance to Bhutan, Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, and Seychelles have begun on 20 January.

India’s vaccine capacities did not appear overnight and its development dates back to the 1960s. India’s Department of Biotechnology, the nodal agency for coordinating and supporting vaccine research, the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council whose mission is to spur innovation across academia and industry, and other key institutions in India have made significant contributions towards this goal. On the other hand, India's biopharma companies established themselves as leading manufacturers of standard vaccines and these innovative private sector companies have transformed this sector, turning it into a billion-dollar industry. The speed with which the private sector pivoted to the development and production of COVID vaccines demonstrates their abilities to make quick research decisions, build partnerships, expand capacity and generate funding.

With a combined installed capacity to produce 8.2 billion doses of different vaccines in a year, major Indian vaccine manufacturers Serum Institute, Bharat Biotech, Panacea Biotech, Sanofis Shanta Biotech, Biological E, Hester Biosciences, and Zydus Cadila will play a crucial role in fighting the pandemic in the months and years ahead. These biopharma majors have substantial R&D experience and deep connections across the world as well as a track record of producing an impressive array of de novo vaccines, modified vaccines, and patents. They will, through scale and economies, make a significant impact by improving the availability of vaccines in the global vaccine market and also bring down prices for the consumer.

India also has a lot to offer as a leader in the logistics of effective vaccine delivery as it has overcome difficulties posed by climate and terrain through its vast experience. As the country ramps up production and delivery of vaccines, the entire supply line has been digitized through an Electronic Vaccine Intelligence Network (eVIN) and the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is being monitored through a digital Covid-19 Vaccine Intelligence Network (Co-WIN) that will be used for planning, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation.

India is, because of its strengths in the biopharmaceutical and vaccines domains, one of the major centers in the transnational efforts to counter the pandemic. The country will make its “Made in India” vaccines available to the international community for combating the COVID-19 pandemic as stated by the Prime Minister of India at the launch of India’s domestic vaccination drive on January 18 “We are committed that India's vaccines, our production capacity, serve the interest of the whole humanity.”

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