Covaxin, the coronavirus vaccine developed and manufactured by Bharat Biotech, “neutralises multiple variants of SARS-CoV-2 and effectively neutralises the double mutant strain as well”, the ICMR, the Indian government’s top medical research body, said on Wednesday.
Twenty-four hours earlier, though, Bharat Biotech’s Dr Krishna Ella told NDTV there is “no information yet” about how well the vaccine might work against variants of the coronavirus. He said the data – specifically efficacy against the double mutant strain – was not expected for a week.
“I don’t know about the South African variant yet… but coming to the Indian double mutant, we don’t have knowledge, we will have data in about a week,” Dr Ella, the chairperson of the Hyderabad-based vaccine firm, told NDTV in an exclusive interview.
Dr Ella also indicated the timeline – “a week” – was only an estimate, and said: “I don’t want people to bug me saying you said one week… it takes time for us… We are very serious about it.”
“We don’t want a vaccine which doesn’t work,” he stressed.
ICMR study shows #COVAXIN neutralises against multiple variants of SARS-CoV-2 and effectively neutralises the double mutant strain as well. @[email protected]#IndiaFightsCOVID19#LargestVaccineDrivepic.twitter.com/syv5T8eHuR— ICMR (@ICMRDELHI) April 21, 2021
Dr Ella’s comments appear to underline the contradiction between the two sides’ take on Covaxin’s efficacy against mutated, and potentially more aggressive, versions of the virus.
In March India’s junior Health Minister, Ashwini Choubey, told parliament the vaccine had “good efficacy against variants”. A week later ICMR chief Dr Balram Bhargava said Covaxin and Covishield (the vaccine produced by the Serum Institute) “are effective against UK and Brazilian variants”.
The double mutant strain – labelled B.1.617 – is a possibly more infectious variety that was first detected in Maharashtra late last year, and which experts have linked to the spike in Covid cases.
The average prevalence of the variant surged to 52 per cent of samples sequenced in India so far this month – from almost nothing in January – a Bloomberg report, referring to outbreak.info, said.
The Indian government only acknowledged its presence last month, and last week Health Ministry sources told NDTV it could be responsible for the rising infections. Since then, the strain has also been confirmed in 10 countries, including the United States, Australia and parts of Europe.
Debate over Covaxin’s efficacy against various strains (this morning a triple mutation was reported) comes as India prepares to throw open vaccination to all adults (i.e., over 18) from May 1.
With input from PTI