Medical scientists in India have expressed divergent views on a suggestion made by the Director General of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) to go for mass production of three COVID-19 vaccine candidates before completion of Phase 3 trails.
Dr K.N. Panicker, an expert on community medicine and a former advisor to the World Health Organisation said that although it would be a calculated risk, it was worth taking.
“The way the epidemic goes on at the moment, it would subside by next April. But until that time a large section of the population would be exposed to the infection and the benefit of the vaccine would not be as gainful as it is now", Dr Panicker told Sputnik.
Dr Panicker asserted that the vaccine might not be 100 percent effective, unless it goes through all the trial phases, including a community trial. “But the time constraint is a big thing", he added.
ICMR Chief Dr Balram Bhargava was reported to have made the suggestion to a parliamentary panel on Wednesday (19 August). Currently, three vaccines are undergoing trials at different stages, developed by Bharat Biotech, Cadila, and Oxford University, and are being handled by the Serum Institute of India.
On the other hand, Dr P.K. Rajagopalan, a nationally recognised vector control scientist contended, "Anything that has not undergone mandatory trials should not go into production".
Dr Rajagopalan, who was decorated with one of the highest civilian awards, Padma Sri was critical of the handling of COVID-19 in India. "The government has bungled it", he told Sputnik. "It now wants to have a vaccine in place, even if its efficacy is not proven, as the burden is increasing".
"India should have followed the example of New Zealand, where they handled the pandemic much better. Our experience with some of the viral vaccines like Japanese Encephalitis and Kyasanur Forest Disease (KFD) – a tick-borne viral haemorrhagic fever found in the southwestern part of India, are not good. It is not like small pox or cholera", felt Dr Rajagopalan.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said "...there is a curiosity among everybody when the corona vaccine will be ready. This is natural".
"Once we get a green signal from our scientists, we will launch massive production of the vaccine. We have made all the preparations. We have drawn an outline to ramp up the production of the vaccines and to make it available to each and every person in the shortest possible time", Modi said, during his address to the nation on the 74th Independence Day on 15 August.
To date, India has 686,395 active cases of COVID-19. Some 2,096,664 patients have been cured. According to data released by the federal Health Ministry on Thursday, the death toll is 53,866.