Vaccine big to use for pandemic licence in ‘two weeks’

Israel begins coronavirus vaccine trials

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The world's largest vaccine maker by volume said Saturday it would apply for an emergency license for a coronavirus vaccine within two weeks, and that confusion about effectiveness would not delay its spread.

Adar Ponnawala, executive director of the Serum Institute of India, also confirmed that the Pune-based giant will be able to produce at least 100 million cans per month in Covishield, developed by Astrazeneca and Oxford University, from early 2021.

Poonawalla spoke after visiting Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose government wants 300-400 million doses by July next year as the country battles a new surge in the pandemic.

India, the second worst-hit country after the US, is expected to have 10 million cases in early December.

AstraZeneca said further research on the vaccine was needed after scientists expressed confusion about Covishield's effectiveness.

It showed that studies had given an average success rate of 70 percent, but said it jumped to 90 percent when given an initial half dose and then a full dose.

It was not immediately said that the higher rate of effectiveness only applies to a sample of patients 55 years of age or less. However, Astrazeneca has insisted that the results do not affect regulatory approval.

"There was a bit of confusion in the notice that will be explained in the coming days," said Poonawalla.

"But it won't affect the emergency license in the UK and it shouldn't have any impact here in India."

"We are in the process of applying for an emergency license in the next two weeks.

"Even if the approval comes maybe two weeks or so later, it won't make much difference in the delivery and the amount of cans we can distribute."

Poonawalla said the institute was already producing 50-60 million cans per month and after January-February that would increase to 100 million cans per month.

The Serum Institute will initially focus on manufacturing for India and the 150+ Covax Alliance countries that have agreed to work together on the distribution of the vaccine.

AstraZeneca and Oxford University have named the vaccine cheaper than the competition and easier to store and distribute because it can be handled at higher temperatures.

Poonawalla urged caution when reporting pandemic vaccines so as not to deter the public from using them.

"In a world where everyone is questioning vaccines … we should work together – media, manufacturers, the Indian government and everyone to get the right news out."

He said coverage should "not panic or spread negative news unnecessarily without going into the facts".

"We don't want to put any doubts on people's minds today, especially in times of a pandemic, and we have a situation where vaccines are available, but some people are reluctant to take them because they are unsure or skeptical about safety. "

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Vaccine giant applies for pandemic license in "two weeks" (2020, November 28)
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