There are decisive signs to show, for the first time, that the world is taking an upper hand in the fight against COVID-19, with multiple vaccination drives taking place across the world. This brings in fresh hopes, and fresh opportunities, with the early part of 2021 being a possible bridge towards likely ‘normalcy’.
According to the World Health Organization, 7 different vaccines were being rolled out in various countries across three different platforms, as of 18 February 2021. Moreover, there are over 200 vaccine candidates under development, with 60 in the clinical development phase.
The vaccines appear to be effective, raising a resounding toast to the hard work and perseverance shown by the entire scientific community in the unprecedented race for a likely solution. Just when the constantly mutating virus and emerging strains added to the prevailing uncertainty, the extensively publicized vaccine ‘shot in the arms’ of public figures helped reduce public anxiety.
COVID -19 Response at Navitas Life Sciences
Navitas Life Sciences has always been at the forefront of innovation and a people centric organization. The immediate response to COVID-19 was to ensure employee and patient safety. A mock up of a work from home scenario began, even before lockdown restrictions were announced, aiding in seamless transition during restrictions. The clinical research services extended during the pandemic was recognized globally and appreciated by multiple clients.
The vaccination drive in India began to be rolled out on 16th January, with 300 million people estimated to be in the priority groups.
Expert insights shared by Dr. Ayaaz Hussain Khan in a Live Virtual engagement:
As the vaccination drive continues to be rolled out across the world, Dr. Ayaaz Hussain Khan, Global Head, Generics, provided expert insights into the COVID-19 vaccines on 18th February during an interactive virtual session that encouraged everyone at Navitas Life Sciences to participate. The Live event was conducted for nearly an hour, and was an interactive knowledge sharing session that helped dispel a lot of myths.
Here is an excerpt of the most salient aspects discussed by Dr. Ayaaz.
1. An understanding about the different types of COVID-19 vaccines available
Whole virus vaccines include the live attenuated vaccines and inactivated vaccines, in which the entire virus is used to elicit an immune response. Protein subunit vaccines use a section of the protein coat of the virus to initiate a suitable immune response. Nucleic acid vaccines use DNA or RNA, with the antigen produced by the body, leading to an immune response. In a viral vector vaccine, a harmless virus is used as a vector to provide genetic information about antigen production to the host.
2. An insight into the different brands of vaccines used in the vaccination drive in India
There are two different types of vaccines that have been selected after stringent studies and approval by the Drug Controller of India. Covishield is a viral vector vaccine while Covaxin is a whole virus vaccine.
3. Discussion about the effectiveness of a containment policy only if there are changes in personal behavior
Public and governing bodies can set the tone for vaccination drives and the need to adhere to stringent best practices. However, the onus is on every individual to follow the guidelines provided and help limit the spread of the infection.
Dr. Ayaaz answered a few questions to further improve understanding and address anxiety
There was enthusiastic participation during the question and answer session, as it provided a good platform to discuss and to seek out answers. Dr. Ayaaz, spent time to explain in detail, while participants were relieved to get their queries answered by an eminent expert.
Can vaccinated individuals still be carriers?
An individual who has been vaccinated can still be a carrier. While vaccination will help build antibodies and protect against the development of infection, an individual who has been vaccinated may still carry the virus and could potentially infect others.
However, CDC has provided certain changes in quarantine regulations for people who have been vaccinated. Vaccinated individuals, two weeks after receiving the second dose, and within three months of the last dose, who remain symptom free, need not self-quarantine.
Asymptomatic carriers have been significant sources of disease transmission during the COVID-19 pandemic. A latest study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has shown that nearly 24% of COVID-19 disease transmission was due to asymptomatic carriers. Therefore, an individual who has been vaccinated should continue to wear a mask and maintain 6 feet distance.
Will the vaccine be effective against the emerging strains of the virus?
The prime focus right now is to control the transmission of the virus, across the world, and the best way to do it using a vaccination program. Whether this vaccine will be effective against the new variants is difficult to ascertain at this stage. The scientific community continue to study the effect of the vaccines and, as the virus continues to evolve, are providing data to show that the vaccines are effective against the new strains. There is a lot of learning that is required, the research will continue. Currently, however, the vaccination drive is aimed at containing the virus.
There are a lot of Phase 1 to Phase 3 studies being carried out across the globe. India is also working on providing COVID-19 vaccines, where we are partnering or co-developing, with some of them reaching the clinical stage. Institutes in India are working on bringing other types of vaccines as well, apart from the ones that have been already published about.
How long will the effectiveness of the vaccine last?
After the doses of the vaccine are given, the immune system kicks in and the body begins to develop antibodies that are meant to protect against COVID-19. The antibodies begin to develop 14 days after the second dose, however, it is difficult to ascertain how long it will last.
Quoting Dr. Randeep Guleria, who is the Director of All India Institute of Medical Sciences, the effectiveness of the vaccine should last 8 months or longer. As further studies are published, we will be able to find out more.
Do you think intranasal vaccines will be effective?
Bharat Biotech has come up with the vaccines via intranasal route. It will be revolutionary if this is proven to be effective. Only the phase I approval has been received, so there is still further research and studies which need to be conducted.
What is protein corona, they say multilayer or monolayer?
In vaccines that use protein subunits, it could be monolayer or multilayer. Corona virus undergoes a lot of mutations, and this is one of the ways to develop a vaccine.
When will there be COVID- 19 vaccines for children?
The vaccine has been developed at a remarkable pace, following all guidelines and regulations. This is the quickest vaccine that has entered the market, with International communities formed to accelerate the development of vaccines. Unless we work together, we will not be able to tackle it.
Any clinical trial initially involves adults as study subjects, only after which special populations like children, elderly and pregnant women will be tested on. However, there are two institutes in the U.S. who have already begun testing on children. So, the results from these studies will help further the development of COVID-19 vaccines for children. Without such studies, a vaccine for children will not be possible.
We heard a lot about herd immunity. How long will it take for us to reach herd immunity?
There have been reports of certain cities reaching herd immunity, including Chennai. However, it is important to fully determine how this virus continues to infect, as it is constantly mutating with new strains emerging. In Bangalore, the case fatality rate has increased from 0.7 to nearly 1 in the past few weeks, which is a cause of concern. In the UK, the no of cases was down to 5000, and then rose to 25,000, therefore, we need to be cautious with this virus.
Does the government has space for database set up? And do we have access to it?
For Covishield, the serum institute has provided contact email id and phone numbers in their fact sheet to reach out to in case of any adverse events. For immunization programs, this is an important mechanism. As the vaccination drive continues, there will be more information available and provided. There is no alarming cause for worry, there have been few issues of adverse events, but the Government is looking into it. On the whole, the vaccination drive is the need of the hour, and there is no reason to be worried.
Please explain do’s and don’ts after taking vaccine
People with underlying conditions should consult with their doctors before getting vaccinated. This is a simple intramuscular injection, with a 0.5 ml dose, followed by a second dose. There is no reason to worry.
In India, we have been vaccinated multiple times for multiple disease conditions, so this should be treated as one such. Ensure that you do not get vaccinated when you have fever.
The vaccine is safe, and people should go ahead and take it. If there are any concerns regarding individual response based on previous medical history, it is best to consult with your physician.
Which vaccine would you suggest for people with cardiac problems or people on blood thinners?
From the fact sheets provided by the vaccine manufacturers, it is found that the vaccines may not be appropriate for people with certain ailments like cardiac or respiratory ailments. However, it Is best to check with your physician. Both the available vaccines have undergone the requisite tests and have been approved by the drug controller of India. Data on people with co-morbidities are still being collected.
Now Maharashtra is considering another lockdown? What do you feel about mass inoculation?
We have to keep in mind that COVID-19 still exists, and if you are in a public space, or interacting with co-workers, ensure sufficient protection. Though restrictions have been eased in certain places, we need to focus on safety practices.
Re-lockdown is hard, as we have all witnessed the difficulties faced during lockdowns, but that is a local scenario. Mass inoculation is good, but there are people with comorbidities and children for whom the required data for inoculation is not available yet.
If a person has already been infected with COVID-19, does he/she still have to be vaccinated?
It is best to be vaccinated, even if an individual has already been infected. Such directives have also been provided by the Indian Government. It was possible to eradicate polio only by vaccinating all children of a particular age. So, if we need to control the virus, we need to ensure maximum vaccination, which includes people who have been infected with the virus before, for the benefit of the individual as well as the community.
The informative session by Dr. Ayaaz was well received created a significant impact on employee welfare and their views on the COVID-19 vaccine. A survey taken at the end of the session helped reveal the immense knowledge gained.
Key Employee Takeaways from the session
There have been multiple instances of containment of the virus, especially in settings like schools, workplaces, warehouses and factories, where there is regular and predictable human activity, using social distancing and the use of masks. However, unpredictable human behavior in informal settings like social gatherings, and household meetings where safety precautions have not been met, have led to a disproportionate rise in the number of cases,. A vaccination drive is aimed at protecting the high risk population initially, and then the general population from COVID-19.
Navitas Life Sciences has always been in the forefront of safeguarding human health, and we have conducted multiple infectious disease clinical research studies and vaccine trials, including COVID-19 clinical trials. The awareness initiative is another aspect to improving employee understanding and protecting health.