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Will a COVID 19 vaccine truly be a game-changer?

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Dhanashree Bapat (Assistant Manager, Pharma) Business Research & Advisory, Aranca writes on how will a COVID–19 vaccine impact the world

World over, the COVID–19 pandemic has unleashed devastation. It has claimed lakhs of lives globally, with numbers continuing to stack up. Healthcare has been impacted directly—hospitals across countries are struggling to accommodate and treat patients. The health crisis has ballooned into an economic crisis as nations have been forced to impose lockdown and seal their borders to contain the infection. Millions have lost their jobs and many businesses have been pushed into bankruptcy. Most companies have switched to the work from a home model, as the lockdown remains in effect in several countries. The forced isolation, coupled with uncertainty surrounding the situation, has created a mentally stressful environment, implying the growing need for a return to normalcy. However, as most of us understand, what probably awaits us is a ‘new normal’.

Managing COVID–19 – Need for Vaccine

Scientists around the world are working on developing a cure/treatment and vaccines for COVID–19.  Currently, research on around 260 drugs and 150 vaccines is underway. Different therapies such as antivirals, plasma therapies, and immunosuppressive drugs are being explored to manage the disease. Governments, as well as pharmaceutical companies, are collaborating across nations to ensure uninterrupted access to medicines.

As a first step in the fight against the disease, it is imperative to build immunity. This will eventually prevent any resurgence and as the health of the general population improves, it would be easier for economies to get back on track. Therefore, a vaccine needs to be discovered at the earliest. A few promising vaccine candidates are AZD1222 developed by the University of Oxford in collaboration with Astra Zeneca, mRNA-1273 by Moderna Therapeutics, and CoronaVac by Sinovac Biotech.

Challenges in discovery and development of Vaccine

The mutating virus is making it difficult for researchers to arrive at a single solution. It is important to recruit the right set of patients for human clinical trials, arrange the logistics for the trials as well as monitor the patients. Regulatory approvals are required prior to commercialisation of the vaccine. Accelerating the pace of innovation without compromising on safety is the need of the hour.

Will the vaccine be a game-changer?

The COVID–19 vaccine may be a boon in managing the disease, but it will come with its own set of issues, especially at the beginning, which may make it difficult to measure the impact initially. Public-private partnerships and collaborations will play an important role in scaling up the manufacturing, supply and availability of the vaccine.

Pricing and market access – The Serum Institute of India, which plans to produce at least 60 million doses of the vaccine this year, is estimated to price it at INR 1000 per dose in India; however, it will be sold free of cost by the government. Médecins Sans Frontières has urged the leading economies to ask pharmaceutical companies to sell the COVID–19 vaccine at the cost price. In most countries, governments will bear the cost of the vaccine—the optimal pricing strategy would be to set a fair sustainable price, striking a balance between the investment in research and easy availability of the product.

Manufacturing and supply – Largescale manufacturing would be required to meet the high demand. India may take the lead and become the key supplier of the COVID–19 vaccine.

Product limitations – Depending on the vaccine that gets approved, single or booster doses may be required. Safety and efficacy data in a large population pool will have to be established. Cold chain logistics will have to be set up at a large scale for effective storage and steady supply.

Market uptake – In a survey in May 2020 by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, around 50% of respondents were certain that they would take the vaccine when one becomes available. However, a section is not yet convinced about the level of immunisation a vaccine can guarantee. They may rather give it a miss, worried about the side-effects.

Caution warranted 

Much like the flu vaccine, the COVID–19 vaccine could be just a preventive measure, reducing the chances of contracting the infection but not guaranteeing any protection against it. Moreover, even after it is introduced, the world will not go back to operating as it did previously. Mass vaccination drives, while maintaining social distancing and increasing awareness about the benefits of vaccination, will be important.

The vaccine may restore some normalcy, though. However, all precautionary measures against COVID–19 will have to be followed. Until immunisation is guaranteed, there will be restrictions due to which the scenario may change in several spaces:

  • Travel and tourism will remain affected as travellers would continue to be wary of contracting the infection. Even if operations resume, the growth trajectory will be slow.
  • Restaurants and cafes may start but, due to social distancing, are likely to run at less than full capacity.
  • Malls and retail shops will see much less footfall, while e-commerce will continue to grow.
  • Consumers will be more inclined toward saving than spending lavishly.
  • Electronic goods like washing machines and dishwashers will replace house helps.
  • Wherever possible, companies would implement working from home.
  • Online education will increase and may just pave the way for online schools/homeschooling.
  • Marriages and other functions will soon become a ‘family affair’.

Though the vaccine may bring in a semblance of normalcy, apprehensions of contracting the infection even after vaccination will make the resumption of life as we knew it, impossible. That said, the vaccine would enable us to start afresh and operate in line with what would be the ‘new normal’.

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