Poonawalla, ET’s Business Leader Of the Year for 2021, was optimistic that final approvals for administering Covovax to children would come soon, giving a boost to India’s immunisation programme for kids under the age of 18.
In an interview to ET, Poonawalla said Covishield’s longer immunity was probably the reason why experts in India decided on having a gap of nine months between the second dose and the booster or precautionary dose.
“Look at US, Israel, Europe, you pick your country, whichever countries have taken only the messenger RNA vaccines, they’ve got tremendous cases compared to India,” he said, adding that no vaccine in the past had ever been developed using messenger RNA technology.
Gap between second and booster dose
“Now, not to say it (mRNA vaccine) is not good… But if every three or four months, you need another shot… I mean, the second booster has been taken by the President of the United States, which means it’s his fourth dose. Now, they don’t know what to say or do beyond that… So they’ll have to, at some point, admit that their vaccine may give a good shot of initial titres for two-three months, then it’s out of steam. A vaccine is supposed to give you 5-10 years of immunity with three doses,” he said.
Explaining why he had been advocating a shorter time gap between the second shot and the booster dose, the Serum Institute CEO said people wanted an option to build their protection or in some cases a booster dose was needed for travel.
Covishield is manufactured and sold by SII with a licence from the British-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca and Oxford University. Covishield is based on an age-old viral vector platform that uses benign Chimpanzee adenovirus modified to contain the gene for making the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. In contrast, Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines use messenger RNA or genetic code to instruct human cells to make the protein of choice – in this case, spike protein.
Poonawalla said there had been concerns regarding adverse aftereffects of Covishield but they have been proven to be unfounded. “After more than a billion people have got it (Covishield), if you look at allopathy medicines, such as ibuprofens, paracetamols, contraceptives and others, they have caused more deaths, blood clots and issues than Covishield,” he said.
Banking on Covavax
Poonawalla said SII is geared up for the rollout of its second Covid vaccine Covavax for children for 12 years and above in a week or two, subject to clearance from the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) committee.
“It’s (child vaccination) not picked up as much. And the reason is partly because our vaccine (Covavax) has not been allowed to go into the programme yet… everyone has been waiting for Covavax, which is a vaccine we’re selling in Europe and Australia. In a week or two, when the government decides to allow that in the program on the Cowin app, I think we’ll see a surge in uptake,” he said.
Covavax is manufactured and sold by SII with a licence from US biotech company Novavax. It has been found to be more suitable for children and adolescents than Covishield.