Rajat Sharma

Nasal booster and anti-viral drug: Rays of hope amidst the gloom over Covid pandemic

AKBIn the fast spreading gloom due to a huge surge in Covid cases across India, has come two pieces of good news. A nasal vaccine as booster, codenamed BBV-154, is in the pipeline. Hyderabad-based manufacturer Bharat Biotech has developed this nasal vaccine, and the subject experts committee of Drug Controller General of India is going to take a decision soon for clinical trials of this intranasal vaccine as a booster or third dose. This will be given to all those who have taken both doses of either Covishield or Covaxin.

The initial clinical trials will be done on 5,000 people, out of whom 50 per cent have been vaccinated with Covishield and the other 50 per cent vaccinated with Covaxin. India will get this intranasal booster vaccine in March, if everything goes according to schedule. This booster will be given six months after the second dose of vaccine.

The subject experts committee is also expected to give approval to Russian Sputnik Light vaccine, which is a one shot vaccine, manufactured by Dr Reddy’s Lab. Sputnik Light vaccine is useful for patients having Omicron variant of virus. On December 25, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had given indication about introduction of a nasal vaccine as booster. At that time, he had announced launch of nationwide vaccine drive for all children aged 15 to 18 years.

Another good news is that another Indian company Mankind Pharma will launch the generic version of Merck’s anti-viral Covid pill Molnupiravir, and it will be available in pharmacies from next week. It will be priced between Rs 28 and Rs 35 per capsule, and a five-day course of 40 capsules will cost Rs 1,400. In comparison, the Merck’s pill in the US costs roughly $700. Since the Drug Controller General of India has already approved emergency use of this pill, there will be no issue over immediate marketing. Thirteen Indian companies along with Mankind Pharma will be manufacturing and marketing this pill in India with license from Merck. The drug was invented for treating influenza, but now it has become useful for treating Covid-19.

On Tuesday, India reported 37,379 new Covid-19 cases during the last 24 hours, its highest surge since September last year. On the vaccination front, more than 150 crore vaccine doses have already been administered. With the introduction of indigenous intra-nasal vaccine, it will be a feather in the cap of Indian drug manufacturers. Vacccines and drugs are not invented within a day, it takes months to manufacture them, carry out field trials, and then introduce them after getting emergency use approval from the regulator.

More than half the Covid vaccines administered across the world have been manufactured in India. In the times of Covid crisis, India has proved to be the protector for peoples across the world. Among teenagers, there are roughly more than 7 crore children in the 15-18 years age group in India, out of which 47 lakh took their first dose on Monday, and nearly 40 lakh children took their dose on Tuesday. Our children understand the importance of the vaccines, and they have enthusiastically come forward to discharge their responsibility to the nation. Our leaders should learn lessons from them. Already election campaign in UP, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa, and Manipur are in full swing.

On Tuesday, it was reported that Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal was tested positive. Thirteen ministers in Maharashtra, including PWD Minister Eknath Shinde, Balasaheb Thorat, Varsha Gakewad, have been tested positive. Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’Brien and Babul Supriyo are undergoing Covid treatment. Union Minister Mahendranath Pandey, and former Bihar CM Jitanram Manjhi have been tested positive. Karnataka Education Minister B. S. Nagesh, Chhatisgarh Health Minister T. S. Singhdeo, and Congress media in-charge Randeep Surjewala have also been tested positive. The biggest danger of pandemic lurks on states that will go to the polls soon. While the Election Commission has said that polls will not be postponed because of the pandemic, it has cautioned all party leaders to be careful during campaigning and stick to Covid protocols.

Meanwhile, most of the state governments have imposed fresh restrictions. Delhi government has announced weekend curfew from this week onwards. This has drawn the ire of shopkeepers who are staring at a bleak future. Most of the shopkeepers told India TV reporters that while leaders are busy addressing public meetings, they are being forced to close down their shops and markets. While the shopkeepers may be having their problems, the fact cannot be overlooked that most of the markets in Delhi are still witnessing huge crowds of shoppers, with most of them without masks.

Similar is the case in Maharashtra, which stands No. 1 in India for daily surge in Covid cases. On Tuesday, 18,466 new Covid cases were reported from the state, almost half of the daily cases reported across India. Thirteen ministers and nearly 70 MLAs in Maharashtra have been tested positive. Active cases have crossed 13,000.

New Year eve celebrations have costed several of us dearly. While celebrating in the midst of huge crowds, whether in Goa, or in Maharashtra or other states, people threw caution to the wind. Even passengers celebrating the New Year on a cruise ship Cordelia, were tested positive. People who are vaccinated, themselves do not know that they have been freshly infected with the virus. Those who got negative reports 48 hours earlier, were later found positive. The virus is lurking everywhere in our midst. The problem is: most of the patients are asymptomatic, and they are unknowingly spreading the virus.

I had cautioned on Monday, and am repeating the same today: Assume yourself as Covid positive, and treat all people around you as Covid positive. Only after practising utmost caution, can we all protect ourselves.

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