There will not be a third wave of COVID-19 of the size and consequence the country witnessed during the second wave unless there is a new variant of coronavirus, top vaccinologist Gagandeep Kang said Friday. She stressed the need to develop better vaccines that can deal with new variants, and strengthening of the regulatory mechanisms.
"Unless there is a new variant there will not be a third wave of the size and consequences that we saw in the second wave. What we will see is local flare-ups where there are unprotected populations and where the virus has not been before," Kang said.
The second wave of coronavirus in the country between March and May killed thousands and infected lakhs, overwhelming the health infrastructure. "Are we done with COVID? No we are not. Are we going to be done with COVID? Not anytime in the near future," she added. Kang, a professor with Christian Medical College, Vellore, was speaking in a virtual event at the CII Lifesciences Conclave.
Last month, Manindra Agrawal, a scientist with IIT-Kanpur who is in the three-member team of experts tasked to project the surge in cases, had said the country may see a third wave peaking between October-November if a more virulent mutant of coronavirus emerges by September.
Kang said the Indian vaccine industry has been absolutely phenomenal in dealing with the pandemic, but it still has a long way to go. "I can't say the same thing (about the regulatory system) as people know about our regulatory systems. But it is something we should use as a lesson for the future because we really really need informed, strong regulators that work with industries to show what is required," she said.
Kang also stressed the need for a translational research ecosystem of clinical researchers that are willing to take risk, and are supported by the government and academia. She said new technologies carry risks and there is a need for a regulatory system that is prepared for clinical risks.
"We need the academic medical environments that work with the industry to make sure that we can safely test these interventions in people. We do not have this at this time so strengthening regulation is key."
She said surveillance diagnostics is still dependent very heavily on imports. The routine PCR kits are being made by many companies in the country but the best laboratories are not yet using those tests, she observed.
"We have to recognise that we need to be thinking about the quality of what we use so that we use what we make in diagnostics just as we do in vaccines and in drugs and in terms of sequencing," she said.
In another seminar during the conclave, Krishna Ella, Chairman & Managing Director of Bharat Biotech said Indian vaccine manufacturers have tremendously contributed globally as two of the three children across the world are jabbed by Indian vaccines.
He said the Indian industry was more focused on children's vaccines, and the shift is happening towards adult vaccines. "We need clinical trial centres across the country and have partnerships with countries all over the world especially in South East Asia, Africa, and Latin America," he said.
"The access to supply chain for reusables, re-agents in biologics and manufacturing is imperative, and it is important that we indigenise a lot of these requirements, so we don't have any supply chain disruptions," Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Executive Chairperson & Founder Biocon said.
She added, "The future belongs to biotech, bioscience and biopharma and we need to invest right now. We need to create a conducive environment to provide the necessary risk capital to scale up. This would require specialised venture funds.”