The Serum Institute of India released a representative image of the vial of ‘Covishield’, the vaccine developed by the Oxford University and pharma giant, AstraZeneca.

A hand wearing gloves holds a bottle with the label of a coronavirus vaccine. In the background, medical equipment can be seenImage for representation: PTI
Coronavirus Coronavirus Wednesday, July 22, 2020 - 16:52

The Serum Institute of India (SII) could potentially launch the first COVID-19 vaccine called ‘Covishield’ and commence its trials soon in the country. The SII on Tuesday released a representative image of the vial of Covishield which is the vaccine developed by the Oxford University and pharma giant, AstraZeneca. The SII will be applying soon to Indian authorities for the licensure trials of the vaccine.

Here are five things you need to know:

1. How soon will the vaccine be available? Researchers hope that the vaccine may be ready by year-end. 

Called AZD1222, the vaccine is presently being manufactured by pharmaceutical major AstraZeneca and the UK Government has ordered 100 million doses ahead of time.

SII, the largest vaccine manufacturer in the world, has been chosen by Oxford and its partner AstraZeneca to manufacture the vaccine once it is ready.

Commenting on the preliminary results of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, Adar Poonawalla, CEO, SII, said, “The trials have shown promising results and we are extremely happy about it. We will be applying for the licensure trials to the Indian regulator in a week's time. As soon as they grant us permission, we will begin with the trials for the vaccine in India. In addition, we will soon start manufacturing the vaccine in large volumes.”

Speaking to a media outlet, he said, “We are confident about getting on with Phase-3 trials in India in August and we forecast that it will take a little over two months to complete, followed by a few weeks of review. By November, we hope to launch the vaccine if the trials are positive.”

2. How much will each dose of the vaccine cost? Speaking to a media outlet, Poonawalla said that they would try to limit the cost to around Rs 1,000.

“I don't think any citizen of India or any other country has to pay for it because it is going to be bought by the government mainly, and distributed for free. Having said that, it will still be very affordable,” he said.

“We don't want to make a profit amid the pandemic. Once this is over, we may look at a more commercial price that will be available in the private market like other drugs are,” he added.

3. If the trials in India are successful and the SII gets the nod of the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI), it plans to have around 200 to 250 million doses ready by December.

“We have invested more than $200 million for the raw materials, equipment and other things to gear up and do this,” Poonawalla was quoted as saying.

4. The SII also said that if the trials are successful, 50% of the volumes produced by it would be put to use in India, while 50% would be distributed across the world.

Speaking to various outlets, Poonawalla justified the move saying that the goal of the vaccine was to achieve global immunity as India's well-being also depended on trade with other countries.

He also said that vulnerable groups — like the elderly, people with comorbidities, and healthcare workers — were likely to be given the vaccine first and added that the decision would be taken by the Union government.

5. The Centre has also been ready to back the move, with NITI Aayog member VK Paul telling PTI, “Regulatory facilitation will be ensured. It is already being undertaken. If resources need to be supplemented, that will also be actively considered. The government of India will leave no stone unturned to ensure that people of India and the international community have access to an Indian vaccine as early as possible.”

Earlier this week, the first results of Oxford's COVID-19 vaccine showed that it was safe and provoked an immune reaction in a person that lasts for almost two months.

Doses of the vaccine were given to 1,077 healthy adults, aged between 18 and 55, in five UK hospitals in April and May as part of the Phase 1 clinical trial, and results were published in the ‘Lancet’ medical journal.

The results showed that more than 91% of volunteers who injected the vaccine, produced an immune response against the coronavirus that lasted a month or more. The immune responses remained strong for at least 56 days.

(With IANS and PTI inputs)