The Viral Bulletin

The past month saw the world rejoice as major pharmaceutical companies rolled out their vaccines against Covid-19. Previously, Pfizer-BioNTech had already formulated its mRNA- the based vaccine in November 2020. Now, FDA has approved another similar vaccine on 18 December 2020: the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine by Moderna Tx, Inc. This meant that the vaccine could be administered in the United States of America, to individuals above 18 years of age. This vaccine, like the Pfizer vaccine, needs to be given in two doses and requires to be stored at -20C and below. The double- assault of the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccine should hopefully bring swift death to the pandemic in the United States of America.

Meanwhile, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was approved by the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the first country to do so. Unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, this vaccine depends on what’s called adenovirus-vector technology. This means, that instead of any genetic code getting inserted into our cells, a viral vector, which has been inactivated and cannot replicate through its normal life-cycle, is administered. This virus is a weak variant of the common cold virus (adenovirus), which is known to cause infections in chimpanzees. It then stimulates the immune response of our body by producing the surface spike protein of the SARS-COVID-19 virus, and our body remembers it the next time it comes knocking our doors. With the new variant of the Coronavirus amidst them, the news of AstraZeneca rolling out its vaccination program provides some respite to the morose citizens of U.K. Poor chaps did not even get to celebrate their New Year.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is advantageous in many aspects: its storage temperature is close to what our regular refrigerator has (meaning it can be stored and transported with zero sweats), its cost is less per dose (don’t fret, the vaccine is still free!) and it has shown positive results in its Phase III trials in the U.K and in Brazil. Its effectiveness is comparatively less than its Moderna and Pfizer counterparts, coming up to 60% for one dose. New research is ongoing which however tells us that a second dose at a delayed period of time (12 weeks or more after the first dose) spikes the effectiveness to 90%! We can bet on this vaccine for sure! It has in fact been approved for emergency usage all over Europe, Mexico, and India.

The Vaccine – Silk Route

Believe it or not, the past month saw some phenomenal developments in India’s race towards
the production of Covid-19 vaccines as well. And the results were more than what we could have wished for! India successfully rolled out its vaccination drive on January 16th 2021, and since then, more than 4 million people have been vaccinated. This is the quickest any country has crossed the million, let alone 4 million marks in vaccination! Of these, 3 crore healthcare and frontline workers, along with 27 crore people above 50 years of age and the under-50 population groups with co-morbidities have been vaccinated. For this humungous vaccine drive, two vaccines were approved by the Indian government: Covaxin™ and Covishield. Of these, Covishield is the name that was given to the Oxford- AstraZeneca vaccine produced in India by the Serum Institute of India, Pune. Till now, the institute has managed to produce 50 million doses per month!

India also became one of the first countries to not only successfully produce, but also export these vaccines to neighbouring countries such as Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar, and Bangladesh. There are further plans to send the vaccines to Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, and Mauritius. Akin to how India’s ancient trade routes supplied essential spices and luxuries such as silks to different parts of the world, the supply of vaccines against the deadly Coronavirus in today’s modern age, is no less than luxury itself. To think that India will be coming to the rescue of the entire world in this time of distress is indeed a moment of pride for every Indian.


Covaxin™, India’s first indigenous vaccine, produced by Bharat Biotech Inc., was approved for
emergency use in the country on 3 rd January 2021, under clinical trial conditions. This was met with a myriad of reactions from people. The vaccine, which is still under Phase III of trials, does not have definite data about its efficacy and probable side-effects. The trials will be completed by the end of February 2021. In this situation, approving the vaccine for emergency usage has not struck the right notes with much of the public. Scientists and scholars are of the opinion that the authorities could have waited a few more weeks to gauge the efficacy of the vaccine, for it will be a real let-down if the vaccine is administered to the public and turns out to be only 50% as much effective. Debatable as it is, the development of the vaccine can be treated as something to rejoice over and understand why and how it is different from its other foreign counterparts.

This vaccine works on something called Whole-Virion Inactivated Vero Cell-technology. It is a novel method developed especially to produce a vaccine against the SARS-Covid-19 virus. It works by inactivating the whole virus via photochemical methods (using photo chemicals such as riboflavin) which work to carry out nucleic acid alterations in the genome of the virus, rendering it inactive and unable to replicate. This method was published in a paper in bioRxiv on 13 November 2020 and is called SolaVAX™. The paper can be accessed here:
https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.11.13.381335v1.full

The vaccine is a two-dosage vaccine given 28 days apart, and also contains what are called “vaccine adjuvants”, which basically work as supplements to the actual inactivated virus, and in general boost the immunogenicity of the same. It has some decidedly advantageous attributes, such as easy storage and transportability due to storage temperatures ranging from 2-8 degrees Celsius. All in all, the vaccine is promising. Yet, the lack of sufficient data makes it difficult for anyone to assess its efficacy. Hopefully, with the trials completed, there will be enough data to make taking the jab, worth a shot (you see what I did there?).

 

Author:

 

Luminaa Anandh

Co-Founder at The Science Paradox

 

Illustrator:

Shruti Morjaria

Shruti Morjaria is a self-learnt science artist and just another papercut survivor! She is completing her degree in cell and molecular biology. While she juggles between work and life, creativity keeps her sane. She says, “All you gotta do is be a passionate scribbler and see how creativity overflows!”

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