The unforeseen and startling emergence of the SARS-CoV-2, also known as the 2019 novel coronavirus, has given birth to COVID-19, one of the most contagious diseases in the history of time. As the virus took a toll on human lives, the economy isn’t left undisturbed either. The global economy has come to a standstill, the number of deaths has increased at exponentially high rates, social distancing, lockdown, and curfew have created a deep-seated fear and stress in people across the globe. As the virus continues to multiply, the pressing need for a vaccine intensifies. A vaccine trains the body’s immune system to fight the infection. If we want our lives to get back to the ‘old’ normal, we need a vaccine.
According to the World Economic Forum, it usually takes two to five years for its discovery and research, two years for pre-clinical trials, five to nine years for clinical development (Phase I, II, III clinical trials), and one to two years for regulatory review and approval. This connotes that it takes more than ten years to develop a vaccine. However, with advanced technology at our disposal, scientists and researchers are racing to produce an efficient and reliable vaccine for coronavirus by the year 2021.
New York-based Pfizer and the German company, BioNtech, is the first pharmaceutical company to release data from the Phase III clinical trials. Around 43,000 people have been administered this vaccine and there have been no harmful side effects. This is the final stage of testing where many experimental and potential vaccines fail. There are other vaccines in the Phase III trials, including Moderna in the US which has yielded promising results, Wuhan Institute of Biological Products and Sinopharm in China, and reassuring data on a Russian vaccine Sputnik V has also been shared. Research shows that it is 92% efficient. British-Swedish company AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford have also begun with combined Phase II and III combined trials in England and India. Zydus Cadila, the Indian vaccine-maker, is likely to commence with Phase III trials in December.
Researchers have been using different approaches to develop a vaccine. Pfizer, BioNtech, and Moderna have used an experimental approach by developing an RNA vaccine. A part of the virus’s gene is inoculated into the body, which creates viral proteins in order to train the immune system. China-made vaccines use the original virus in the weakened form so that it does not cause any harm. The Oxford and Russian vaccines used a virus that infects chimpanzees, and genetically alters it to resemble coronavirus.
Even after the development of the vaccine, the delivery and distribution of the vaccine pose a huge hurdle. Most of the COVID-19 vaccines, especially RNA vaccines, require -70 to -80 degrees Celsius cold storage facilities along with continual power supply. In India, the government promises to distribute vaccines under a COVID-19 immunization program to healthcare professionals, frontline workers like policemen, citizens aged above 50, and finally those below 50 with two or more diseases at once, free of all costs. According to Dr. Vinod Paul, a member of Niti Aayog, the most optimistic scenario is that the vaccine will take six months to a year to reach everyone.
As per the Wall Street Journal, COVID-19 vaccine deployment will give the global economy a major boost in 2021. However, the International Monetary Fund is of the view that unequal distribution of vaccines will repress the global economic recovery. The forecast of a vaccine being available in the future will potentially boost business and consumer confidence in sectors like tourism and hospitality. The extent of the economic boost will also depend upon the number of people getting vaccinated. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development expects the global economy to grow by 5% in 2021. If the deployment is rapid, the economy could grow 7%, after shrinking 4.5% this year.
Will the world become a more harmonious place where people live with solidarity fending off all inequalities, including the virus and the economy takes better shape after the development of a vaccine or will the global economy fall deeper into the pit of disparity? I choose to be optimistic in this regard since a vaccine is our only hope of retreating to our normal life.