Rajiv Shah, President of the Rockefeller Foundation, says the vaccine being developed in India is among the most promising in the world. In an interview on Politico’s “Global Translations” program, Shah also said the United States should lead the global response to the global threat as it did successfully when the Ebola crisis happened.
More than 100 initiatives are ongoing around the world to find a vaccine for COVID-19, Shah noted. And more than 10 clinical trials are ongoing. “The Serum Institute of India and Oxford are working together on a particularly promising vaccine candidate,” Shah said.
“We will have a vaccine. It may take 12 to 18 months to have scaled production and distribution,” Shah estimated. “And when we do, it will be critical that that vaccine reaches not just those with access and wealth but those most vulnerable,” Shah said.
The Serum Institute of India Pvt. Ltd., ranked as India’s No. 1 biotechnology company, is now the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer by number of doses produced and sold globally (more than 1.5 billion doses) which includes Polio vaccine as well as Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis, Hib, BCG, r-Hepatitis B, Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccines, the company says on its website. It is estimated that about 65% of the children in the world receive at least one vaccine manufactured by Serum Institute.
Vaccines manufactured by the Serum Institute are accredited by the World Health Organization, Geneva and are being used in around 170 countries across the globe in their national immunization programs, saving millions of lives throughout the world, the company said.
The Serum Institute was founded in 1966 by Dr. Cyrus Poonawalla with the aim of manufacturing life-saving immuno-biologicals.
Dr. Purvi Parikh, an immunologist at New York University Langone Health, who is currently involved with testing another vaccine candidate, indicated the Serum Institute of India’s work was creditable.
” This is a great initiative to provide vaccines to one of the most densely populated regions of the world that need it the most,” said Dr. Parikh. “But this underscores the need for large scale vaccine trials to assess safety and efficacy of vaccines as we get close to mass distribution of the vaccine,” she added.
“We are currently testing one of the Pfizer vaccine’s safety and efficacy on healthy individuals here at NYU Langone’s vaccine center and likely will be testing additional vaccines from other companies before the summer’s end,” Dr. Parikh said.
In the U.S., Shah’s Foundation has been behind the push for nationwide testing through its National Testing Plan, and instrumental in bringing together the public and private sectors, Republicans and Democrats, to work towards that goal. From barely 7,000 tests a day, the U.S. is now doing some 3 million tests a week, Shah said. By the Fall, he expected the number of tests to rise to 30 million a week, making it possible to safely open schools.
The Rockefeller Foundation is behind calling for a $100 billion government investment in the testing initiative, of which Congress has approved $25 billion in the CARES Act, Shah said. He . expects the remaining $75 billion to be forthcoming in the near future. This effort is critical to implementing a science-based and data driven policy which has proved successful in the past, for example during the Ebola crisis.
“I led the response to the Ebola crisis,” and U.S. leadership was able to restrict the infection rate to around 30,000 and the deaths to around 11,000, Shah recalled. Some 3,000 American troops were also deployed in the effort, he said.
Equity of access is an important point, Shah said. This is a global threat that requires a global response, he noted.
Nevertheless, he pointed out, if the Serum Institute of India vaccine is a success, it would first be available to India since it is an Indian institution spearheading the trials. For starters, something like 4 billion to 5 billion doses of the vaccine would be needed, Shah estimated, adding that the U.S. is most capable of leading a global response on that front. Shah said he saw first-hand when he was heading the USAID, that America has to lead that global effort. “The world still looks to America,” he said.