HYDERABAD: Ramping up the production of vaccine to prevent the spread of Covid-19 is a welcome step but, more importantly, what is needed now is to ensure that the companies should be able to procure the reagents necessary for developing the vaccine without much difficulty. In an interview with Express, Dr SR Rao, a biotechnology scientist, and vice-president Sri Balaji Vidyapeeth University, Puducherry, a deemed university, says that the centre should step in to help the companies obtain their raw material — reagents — which are available in the US. The government should also help the companies by funding them to foot the bill for reagents.
Dr Rao, who was a senior adviser to the Department of Bio-Technology earlier, believes that to combat Covid-19 effectively, the vaccine manufacturers and the government should come together and evolve a policy of licensing those who have the capacity to produce vaccine though they may not have developed them. “For instance, near Bharat Biotech in Hyderabad alone, there is Biological Evans and Indian Immunologicals. If they are licensed they too could produce the vaccine,” he says.
He points out that India has not learnt any lessons from the Covid-19 first wave while other countries did. “We had a clear three to four months time to take precautions by visualising the second wave. In fact, there was a second wave in other countries and we should have taken a cue from them and should have been prepared, but we did not. We have not supplemented hospitals with oxygen beds, or ICU equipment nor did we have any strategy of how to vaccinate the teeming millions.
There was a policy paralysis. This has resulted in the chaos that we are seeing now,” he says, adding: “Now it’s a full-blown situation and we are panicking as the medical infrastructure is fragile and there are not enough medicines and worse, we are not manufacturing vaccines in volumes that we need,” he says.
He says several European countries, after the first wave, had gone in for medical counter-measures which include stockpiling of millions of vaccine doses, to be ready if the virus hits again. Though we too had enough time and even when watching other countries prepare to face the challenge if the virus raised its ugly head again, we did not act, he says.
When the vaccine finally arrived, the Covid-19 graph too was coming down and understandably, people were not interested in taking the vaccine. “It was the time when the motivation of the people was required but no one seemed to bother about it,” he says, stressing the point that at every stage “we bungled.” At least now, the leadership should act imaginatively in making vaccine available to people freely, without having to look here and there, he says.