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Britain gives the go-ahead to Pfizer and BioNtech vaccine for Covid -19, starts vaccination soon; India loses out on the same as no trials were held in the country

The world has been in the grip of Coronavirus, and since its outbreak in December 2019, in Wuhan, China, much has changed worldwide.

By January 2020, the World Health Organization had declared the outbreak as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern and a pandemic as of March 2020.

As of December 4, more than 65.2 million cases have been confirmed worldwide, and pandemic related deaths are more than 1.5 million worldwide.

Zooming in on India, the country has, as of December 4, an overall tally of over 95.34 lakh with a total number of Covid – 19 related deaths to 1,38,648.

As the world came to a standstill, the race for covid- 19 vaccine began; as of May 6, 2020, a total of 23 companies began working on Covid -19 vaccine, and from there on, we have seen many of these pharmaceutical companies make several announcements of the progress of the Covid -19 vaccine form time to time.

The most important fact to understand is that a vaccine can either be a cure or work as a preventive measure or be used for treatment.

Meaning different pharmaceutical companies are developing or basing their research based on ‘type’ – either it is developed as an “Antibody,’ ‘Treatment,’ or as a ‘Vaccine.’

In the initial stages of the Covid -19 pandemic, little was known except that it is a contagious disease causing the infected to display symptoms such as fever, cough, fatigue, breathing difficulties, loss of smell and taste.

In further observations in some people, developed acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) can be hastened by cytokine storms, multi-organ failure, septic shock, and blood clots. Longer-term damage to organs (in particular, the lungs and heart) has also been observed.

It has also been observed that a significant number of patients who have recovered from the acute phase of the disease but continue to experience a range of effects—known as Long Covid—for months afterward.

These effects include severe fatigue, memory loss, other cognitive issues, low-grade fever, muscle weakness, and breathlessness.

The development of the ‘type of vaccine’ is crucial as it would determine whether it is ‘preventive’ or ‘treatment.’

However, understandably as these companies announced that they were looking to develop a vaccine/treatment for the Covid -19, their stocks saw a significant jump, and each and every time an announcement was made by these companies, the stocks of these respective companies saw a massive spike in the stock market.

Pharmaceutical companies, research, and announcements

TwentyThree pharma companies began their research work aimed at developing a vaccine for the Covid -19 of these; the following are the companies whose stock prices raised substantially –

  1. Amgen and Adaptive Biotechnologies, Type – Antibody treatment; Adaptive’s stock up 10.3%
  2. Altimmune, Type – Vaccine; Name – AdCOVID; stock up 60.8%
  3. BioNTech and Pfizer – mRNA Vaccine; Name – BNT162program; stock soared 47.6%
  4. CytoDyn – Treatment; Name – Leronlimab; stock soared 213.0%
  5. Gilead Sciences – Treatment; Name – remdesivir; stock up by 21.2%
  6. GlaxoSmithKline – Type – Vaccine, treatment, Name – AS03 adjuvant system for vaccines; stock down 11.3%
  7. Heat Biologics – Type – Vaccine, stock up 14.8%
  8. Inovio Pharmaceuticals – Type DNA based vaccine; stock up 209.5%
  9. Jhonson & Johnson – Type – Vaccine; stocks up 2.6%
  10. Moderna – Type – RNA based vaccine; stock 146.8%
  11. Novavax – Type – Vaccine, stock 334.4%
  12. Regeneron Pharmaceuticals – Type – Prevention and treatment; stocks 37.0%
  13. Vaxart – Type – Vaccine; stock 621.8%
  14. Vir Biotechnologies – Type – Treatments; stock 138.2%

However, it is Pfizer and BioNtech have received a go-ahead from Britain.

In India, they were seven pharmaceutical companies working on the coronavirus vaccines 

  1. Bharat Biotech, 
  2. Serum Institute, 
  3. Zydus Cadila, 
  4. Panacea Biotec, 
  5. Indian Immunologicals, 
  6. Mynvax 
  7. Biological E 

Serum Institute had in July announced that it is hoping to develop a Covid -19 vaccine by year-end. They have been working on the AstraZeneca Oxford vaccine in partnership.

Adar Cyrus Poonawalla said, “Serum Institute of India has entered a manufacturing partnership with AstraZeneca to produce and supply 1 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine being developed by Oxford University.”

It is to be noted that the stocks of the company rose substantially.

Present Day Picture – Britain, the United States, and India

The world’s first rigorously tested coronavirus vaccine was given the go-ahead on Wednesday by Britain. Dozes of the vaccine developed by American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and a small German company BioNtech will be injected in the UK starting next week.

Phizer plans to ship 800,000 doses to Britain in the coming days and the first to be vaccinated according to the government body’s advisory – list of vaccine priority groups – nursing homes, Health and Social Workers, residents and workers, followed by people older than 80.

India is not likely to get the vaccine anytime soon; for a vaccine to be allowed in India, it must clear clinical trials here, and neither Pfizer nor its partner companies were asked to hold such trials in the country. 

Even if Pfizer partners with an Indian company now, it will take substantial time for the vaccines to be available in India. The government held talks with Pfizer in August but came to no result and continued to focus on five other candidates, including Poonawallas produced and developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University – Covishield. 

Meanwhile, every time Poonawalla announced the vaccine and its progress, the companies’ shares hit the roof.

Meanwhile, as of December 1, it was reported that one participant in the Covishield vaccine trial developed medical complications and sent a legal notice to Poonawallas Serum Institute and India’s drug regulator on November 21, suffered a severe adverse event after the administration of the under – trial vaccine and has demanded a compensation of Rs 5 crore. 

In the meantime, Mr. Narendra Modi had been on a 3- city vaccine tour – Zydus, Bharat Biotech, and Serum Institute in Pune.

Ruling the game and profiting – Pharmaceutical companies

The Pharmaceutical companies are filling the desperate public need worldwide; the world has three possibilities – Pfizer, Moderna, and Astra Zeneca – but these are also corporations wherein the shareholders expect a lucrative return.

The vaccine market is not a big moneymaker, but with Covid -19 pandemic, the tables have turned in their favor. The global market for vaccines was about $24 billion a year – now the possibilities are endless and considerable profits to be earned. So what if that comes at the price of lives?

In the present, vaccine manufacturing is a potentially lucrative business, but how much will these companies earn and profit from the same?

While the companies have agreed to keep the vaccine’s cost as low as possible, the company that is able to produce and manufacture the vaccine and hence ends the global crises is set to have its prestige and brand soar through the roof. 

However, suppose the cost of the vaccine is high, and people and governments cannot buy them in the quantity that is needed. In that case, the same company is also set to lose its prestige and brand name.

Hence, in the short-term, they might not profit substantially, but in the long term, until the pandemic is eradicated, they can negotiate to higher prices and earn profits.

Another way that the pharmaceutical companies can earn – is through 

patents, by patenting their vaccines (Patents for vaccines last 20 years) minus the time necessary to obtain approval for vaccine use, and in most cases, large producers apply for them—as they do for other drugs—all around the world, in order to prevent drug makers in other countries from producing the drug or vaccine without a license.

It remains to be seen what lies ahead for India. 

Will the Indian companies be able to produce the vaccines as promised?

Will the government be able to avail the same to the entire population? Has the government made a priority list as to who gets the vaccines first? 

Will the majority of the Indian population that is already struggling and those who are at par and below the poverty line, what happens to them?

There is a long list of questions about what, when, and how. 

The Modi Government has its hands full, especially with the current economic conditions, the farmers’ protest, elections, and on and off border tensions both with Pakistan and China; it will be interesting to see how the government tackles each of these issues.

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