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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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Cabraal: Prez appoints members to Port City Economic Commission

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By Shyam Nuwan Ganewatta

The President of the country would always appoint members to the Colombo Port City Economic Commission, entrusted with running of that city under the proposed CPCEC Bill, State Minister of Money & Capital Market and State Enterprise Reforms, Ajith Nivard Cabraal, yesterday, told the media, in Colombo.

State Minister Cabraal said that most critics of the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill had not even read it.

“Sri Lankans don’t need to obtain a visa to enter the Port City as some claim. The Port City will be administered by the Colombo Port City Economic Commission and the Bill we have presented details how the area will be governed,” Cabraal said responding to a question posed by a journalist.

The State Minister said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had asked him to counter the misinformation and fake news that was being spread about the Bill. Once people have read and understood the Bill, most who criticise it would have to change their tune, the Minister said.

 

Journalists also questioned the State Minister on the allegations levelled by MP Wijeyadasa Rajapakse. The State Minister said that Rajapakse had not even asked a question about the Bill during the Parliamentary Group meetings.

“As I said earlier, the Port City will be administered by Colombo Port City Economic Commission. All members are appointed by the President. The Chairman of the Commission too is appointed by the President. The President can get rid of them anytime he wants,” Cabraal said.

The State Minister added that no one would be allowed to withdraw money or assets from Sri Lanka and invest in the Port City. “This is a special economic zone. We need to attract foreign direct investments. We need to have ease of doing business in this zone and we have to make it an important financial hub in the region.”

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Two hotels to be built obstructing elephant corridor in Sinharaja – MONLAR

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Forest land being cleared for the construction of a hotel

By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Bowitiyatenna elephant corridor, used by elephants in Sinharaja to travel to Dellawa – Walankanda forest had been obstructed by two businessmen by clearing a section of the forest to build hotels, Sajeeewa Chamikara of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) said.

“One hotel is being constructed in the Dolekanda Grama Niladari area after clearing seven acres of forest land. The Kalawana Divisional Secretariat has approved the construction of the hotel ignoring environmental regulations. Right now, forests are being cleared, land is being prepared and buildings are being constructed using heavy equipment.”

Another hotel was being built at the Bowitiyatenna Elephant Corridor, situated in Godakawela Divisional Secretariat area by a businessman from Godakawela. He has cleared around eight acres of forest land, the environmentalist said.

The two hotels were obstructing the elephant corridors used by the remaining two elephants in the Sinharaja Forest Reserve. Now, the the people of Rambuka, Thanawela, Ellagama, Handiyekade, Kajugaswatte, Pothupitiya, Kopikella and Cypresswatte would have the elephans marauding their villages, the environmentalist said, adding that the residents of those villages would lose property and lives due to the hotels being constructed by obstructing the elephant corridors.

“Most of the forest areas surrounding the Sinharaja are to be annexed to the Forest Reserve because they are an important part of the forest network. These unscrupulous businessmen and politicians supporting them are attempting to carve out as much land as possible before these areas receive protected status. They are also doing their best to delay the declaration of these lands as protected areas.”

Chamikara said that the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) had the power to take action against those who carried out such illegal activities.

According to Section 23 (a.) (a.) of the National Environmental Act, when a project is carried out without environmental clearance, the CEA can produce such people before a magistrate’s court. If found guilty, a person can be fined up to Rs. 15,000 or imprisoned up to two years or subjected to both.

Chamikara said: “According to Article 27(14) of Chapter VI of the Sri Lankan constitution the state shall protect, preserve and improve the environment for the benefit of the community.” However, the CEA seems to have no interest in taking action against those who are building these hotels illegally. This is CEA’s attitude to almost all major environmental destruction that seems to be taking place these days.

“The government is silent when the Sinharaja forest is degraded and elephant corridors are closed by businessmen. The right to land seems to be a right reserved only for businessmen. We have the right to oppose these under article 28. (f) of the Constitution which states that we have a fundamental duty ‘to protect nature and conserve its riches.’ Article 28. (e) states that we also have a fundamental duty ‘to respect the rights and freedoms of others.’ Thus, we, the citizens have the right to oppose the illegal use of natural resources by powerful businessmen. If we do not oppose these moves as citizens, powerful businessmen will take over all our natural assets like they are doing at Sinharaja.”

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RDHS predicts Coronavirus spike in Jaffna over the weekend

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By Dinasena Ratugamage

There might be a spike in COVID-19 cases in Jaffna this weekend, A.

Kethiswaran, Regional Director Health Services told the media yesterday. Dr. Kethiswaran made the prediction after 26 new cases were detected in Jaffna.

A large number of COVID-19 cases had been reported from Jaffna in the past few weeks. Thus, the people should adhere to health guidelines. If people did not follow the guidelines, there would be a spike in cases and then some places would have to be locked down, he said.

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