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December 2, 2020
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‘No COVID-19 vaccines before 2021,’ Indian S&T Ministry then retracts timeline

With a cumulative caseload of around 700,000 COVID-19 cases, and over 424,000 recoveries, Indian scientists have joined the race to develop a vaccine for the pandemic. But ICMR setting a deadline of 15 August 2020 for release of the drug, has left the scientific community puzzled with many describing it as ‘putting the cart before the horse.’

New Delhi (ISJ): India’s apex biomedical research body has partnered with private lab Bharat Biotech to bring the country’s first vaccine for COVID-19 “for public use latest by 15 August, 2020.” The short deadline had invited criticism from the scientific community, who termed it a “challenging and difficult task”.

Indian Academy of Sciences (IASc) – one of the top scientific bodies in the country came out in criticism of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and said “any hasty solution that may compromise rigorous scientific processes and standards will likely have long-term adverse impacts of unforeseen magnitude on citizens of India.”

“As a body of scientists – including many who are engaged in vaccine development – IASc strongly believes that the announced timeline is unfeasible. This timeline has raised unrealistic hope and expectations in the minds of our citizens,” said a press release by IASc on Sunday (05 July, 2020).

A day after ICMR set the deadline for release of vaccine for COVID-19, India’s federal Science & Technology Ministry however, said vaccine for the global pandemic is “unlikely to be ready for mass use before 2021.” But once the contradiction in the statement came out, the Ministry retracted the timeline.

Interestingly ICMR comes under the federal Ministry of Health & Family Welfare and the minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan is also handling the Ministry of Science & Technology.

More than 140 candidate vaccines are under various stages of development, while six Indian companies are also working on a vaccine for COVID-19. Eleven out of 140 vaccine candidates, including two from India – COVAXIN by Bharat Biotech and ZyCov-D by Zydus Cadila have been given the nod by the Drug Controller General of India to carry out human trails.

Bharat Biotech’s COVAXIN uses the virus isolated from an Indian patient by the National Institute of Virology to develop the inactivated virus vaccine.

Novel Coronavirus infects the human cells with the help of its spike proteins. The spike protein of the virus binds with the ACE2 receptors on the surface of the human respiratory tract cells. Once the virus fuses, the viral genome is slipped into the human cell where around a thousand copies of the virus are made in just ten hours and emigrate to nearby cells. Infection can be arrested if only we can deactivate the spike protein of the novel Coronavirus. Thus the antigen on the spike protein is a crucial vaccine target. If the antibody blocks the spike protein, then the virus cannot bind the cell and multiply.

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