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India’s role vital in equitable global distribution of Covid-19 vaccines

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BY S VENKAT NARAYAN Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, December 27:

As the Covid-19 pandemic-ravaged world enters 2021, it is looking to India for the large-scale production and supply of coronavirus vaccines, Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance (IPA) Secretary General Sudarshan Jain has said.

“India contributes 60 per cent of the vaccine production to the world. India is going to play a vital role in equitable distribution of vaccines around the world,” Jain told PTI news agency.

As the pandemic hit the world in 2020, Indian pharma industry rose to the occasion, and was able to manufacture and maintain supply chains even during the lockout period, and exported medicines such as HCQ and paracetamol to more than 150 countries, keeping its image of ‘Reliable Pharmacy of the World’.

The world is again looking at India as a beacon of hope to manufacture and supply the huge number of vaccines needed to tackle the pandemic.

While Indian companies such as Zydus, Bharat Biotech and Gennova are developing indigenous vaccines, other domestic companies are collaborating with global companies such as Serum Institute of India (SII) with AstraZeneca, Dr Reddys with Sputnik and Biological E with J&J, he added.

“India will also be a benchmark in vaccine distribution and will be using technology to ensure targeted and phased distribution. India has always believed that global cooperation and coordination is fundamental to meet the COVID situation,” Jain said.

Currently, three Covid-19 vaccines candidates of Bharat Biotech, SII and Pfizer are under active consideration of India’s drug regulator. There is hope that early licensure is possible for all or any of them, according to the Indian Health Ministry.

Indian Drug Manufacturers’ Association (IDMA) Executive Director Ashok Kumar Madan said: “We are sure with all the attention given by the government, vaccines will too be available for use from January 2021 onwards. These vaccines are being approved by our Drugs Controller as per the stringent international norms. We take pride that almost 70 per cent of the World Health Organisation (WHO) vaccine procurements are from India”.

Indian firms have used different platforms to produce the vaccines. Scientists in these firms have the capability to produce the vaccine to counter the mutated forms in a short time, he added.

On the availability of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, Serum Institute of India (SII) CEO Adar Poonawalla told PTI that, based on the trial results in India and the UK, and if approvals from regulatory bodies are in place in time, “then we can expect the vaccine to be available in India by January 2021 (only if it is proven immunogenic and efficacious)”.

As part of various partnerships and collaborations for vaccine candidates, SII will keep aside 50 per cent of whatever quantity of the vaccine candidates are produced for India and the remaining quantity will go to low- and middle-income countries, he noted.

“So far, under at-risk manufacturing, we have already stockpiled 50 million doses. Currently, our capacity is 60-70 million doses per month, which will increase further up to 100 million doses of the vaccine per month by February 2021. However, we will progress to mass production only after it is proven efficacious and immunogenic for mass use,” Poonawalla said.

About the price of the vaccine, he said: “We want the vaccine to be affordable and accessible to all. The Government of India will receive it at a far more affordable price of US$ 3-4, since they will be buying in a larger volume. The priority is going to be India and the GAVI countries, after which only, the private market will open up where the pricing would be USD 6-8 per dose”. GAVI stands for Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations.

Poonawalla said Covishield is an extremely viable and vital vaccine for India and other low-and-middle-income countries. Its efficacy in terms of affordability and composition makes it easier to transport and store for long periods at 2-8°C i.e. normal refrigerator temperatures. For countries with warm climates, this will help to ensure equitable distribution and sustainable affordability.

“Add to that, we have a long-standing relationship with the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford for our various other vaccine initiatives. We are hopeful that it will be an efficacious and immunogenic vaccine viable for mass use,” he added.

Zydus Group Chairman Pankaj R Patel said: “We are committed to offering a safe and efficacious vaccine to fight the pandemic and our researchers have been working tirelessly to make this happen”.

The outcomes for the Phase I/II clinical trials of ZyCoV-D vaccine have been submitted to the DCGI (Drugs Controller General of India). The company hopes to start the Phase III trials, which will be conducted on 30,000 volunteers across the country, he added.

“We have the capabilities to manufacture over 120 million doses to start with, and shall ramp up depending on the demand. Our focus right through the year has been to support patients with access to critical medicines, diagnostics and other medical essentials in an affordable way to fight Covid-19 and this will continue to be a key factor in our vaccine launch as well,” Patel said.

In September, billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates said that India’s willingness to play a ‘big role’ in manufacturing Covid-19 vaccine and to supply to other developing countries will be a critical part in containing the pandemic globally.

Recently, Bharat Biotech Chairman and Managing Director Krishna Ella said that people who are infected should also take a vaccine, and India is well prepared regarding the logistics for the vaccine distribution as it has a very robust immunisation system.

Another domestic pharma firm, Aurobindo Pharma, has entered the vaccine fray by inking an exclusive licence agreement with US-based company COVAXX, to develop, commercialise and manufacture a vaccine to fight Covid-19 for India and UNICEF.

Joining hands in efforts to help with the availability of the vaccine, Wockhardt, in early December, said it is in discussions with a number of global Covid-19 vaccine developers to offer drug substance as well as fill and finish manufacturing facilities to them.

“2021 will be a year of transformative measures that have been set into motion across the industry. Resilience-strengthening efforts through aspects like digital transformation, securing manufacturing and supply chains, will continue,” Cipla President and Global CFO Kedar Upadhye said.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the first human cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, subsequently named SARS-CoV-2 were first reported by officials in Wuhan City in China, in December 2019.

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GL sounds far-reaching educational reforms  

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Education Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris yesterday (21) acknowledged that for want of tangible measures on the part of successive governments, there was a critical mismatch between the education provided and the availability of job opportunities.

The academic, in quarantine as a result being identified as potential Covid-19 contact, emphasised the need for far reaching changes to address the issue as part of their efforts to restructure the entire system.

Prof. Peiris said so in his short remarks at an event to mark the 100th anniversary of the University of Colombo.

The one-time External Affairs Minister said: “It is a great pleasure for me to felicitate the University of Colombo, my alma mater on this happy occasion. It is a significant milestone because we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the faculty of arts, faculty of science and the library of the University of Colombo. As we look back on that span of a full century, the characteristics of the University which comes to mind is its resilience. During that period the University has had to face and indeed overcome many challenges. The society of our country has undergone a fundamental transformation during that period.

The University had the strength to cope with rapidly changing circumstances. I would identify that as a principal accomplishment of the University of Colombo.

The University proved its capacity for development, change and refinement and adaptation in order to keep pace with dramatically changing circumstances. The University proud as its history is I am sure will have an even more magnificent future. It has an important role to play in the far reaching changes we are contemplating in the educational system of our country. It is our intention in the course of this year 2021 to restructure the entire system in order to address the fundamental problem of a rather critical mismatch between the education we provide in our Universities and other educational institutions on the one hand and the availability of employment, livelihoods on the other. There is regrettably gap in this regard and it should be our collective endeavor to address this problem. We are also revisiting the curricular. The substance of our curricular  the methods of teaching in such a way  as to serve better the public in a  better way   In all these efforts I have no doubt the expertise of the University of Colombo by any standards  will be of enormous assistance to us in achieving goals we have set ourselves (SF)

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China slaps sanctions on 28 Trump administration officials, including Pompeo

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China has imposed sanctions on 28 former Trump administration officials, including outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, agency reports said yesterday.

In a statement released just minutes after President Biden took office, China’s foreign ministry said it had decided to sanction those “who have seriously violated China’s sovereignty and who have been mainly responsible for such U.S. moves on China-related issues.”

The list of names features former Health and Human Service Secretary Alex Azar; former White House trade adviser Peter Navarro; former national security adviser Robert O’Brien; Kelly Craft, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; and Matthew Pottinger, who recently resigned as deputy national security adviser. Former national security adviser John Bolton and former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon were also included.

The sanctions prohibit those individuals and their immediate family members from entering mainland China, Hong Kong and Macao. They are also restricted from doing business with China, as are any companies or institutions associated with them.

“Over the past few years, some anti-China politicians in the United States, out of their selfish political interests and prejudice and hatred against China and showing no regard for the interests of the Chinese and American people, have planned, promoted and executed a series of crazy moves which have gravely interfered in China’s internal affairs, undermined China’s interests, offended the Chinese people, and seriously disrupted China-U.S. relations,” the ministry said.

The move comes just one day after Pompeo issued a forceful statement accusing China of committing genocide against Muslim Uighurs and other minority groups in its Xinjiang region, for which the U.S. sanctioned several Chinese officials in July. That was one of numerous instances of sanctions, visa bans and trade restrictions imposed on Chinese politicians and Communist Party officials in the Trump administration’s final year.

Relations between the U.S. and China deteriorated considerably under the previous administration, which took an unusually confrontational approach. Pompeo and other officials referred to China as constituting America’s greatest threat, as NPR’s John Ruwitch has reported.

In fact, Bolton appeared to celebrate the sanction against him, calling it “great news” in a tweet posted Wednesday afternoon.

“I accept this prestigious recognition of my unrelenting efforts to defend American freedom,” he wrote.

It is unclear what changes Biden plans, but Ruwitch noted, “Even if the Biden team moves swiftly to put the U.S.-China relationship back on a less antagonistic track, Beijing will be wary after the dramatic changes of the past four years.”

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Expert Committee appointed to report on gold, copper and iron ore deposits

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By Ifham Nizam

Environment Minister Mahinda Amaraweeera yesterday appointed an expert committee to conduct a scientific study on the Seruwawila gold, copper and iron ore deposits.

With iron ore prices skyrocketing worldwide and both neighbouring giant India and China having huge demands, Sri Lanka was keen on tapping natural resources, an official said.  

The committee will be coordinated by an Additional Secretary to the Ministry and will be chaired by Prof. Athula Senaratne of the University of Peradeniya and its other members are H W. Navaratne, Dr. Stalin Fernando, Dr. Bernard Perera, Dr. C.H.K.R. Siriwardena and Dr. O.K. Dissanayake.

Amaraweera, addressing the media, at his Ministry yesterday said the mineral deposit had been explored in the 1970s with the help of technology available at that time, and it had been found that there was iron, copper as well as a certain amount of gold in the Seruwawila deposit.

As today’s excavation technology was very advanced, it was possible to dig up to 250-300 metres, the Minister said.

The Minister also said that all possible steps would be taken to increase the value of the mineral resources through value addition locally to ensure higher prices.

 

 

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