FAQ: Will India Get the Pfizer Vaccine? Can I Fly to UK to Get It?

What do the Pfizer vaccine updates mean for India?

What do the Pfizer vaccine updates mean for India?

What Happened?

The United Kingdom has become the first country to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for rollout from 'next week’, reported news agency AFP on Wednesday, 2 December.

Why is This Exciting?

Earlier, on 9 November, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that their coronavirus vaccine was more than 90 per cent effective in preventing COVID-19. As the first country to approve and begin plans to roll out a vaccine, there is hope that we are nearing the end of the tunnel with the pandemic.

What Does This Mean for India? Will I Get the Vaccine?

Sadly, not that much.

FIT earlier spoke with Dr Shahid Jameel, Virologist and Director, Trivedi School of Biosciences at Ashoka University to understand what the news meant for us - will the vaccine reach India? To put it bluntly, Dr Jameel says,

“Don’t get too happy that this vaccine will reach us In India in the near future. It won’t.”
Dr Shahid Jameel, Virologist

He added,

“A word of caution here. This vaccine requires ultra-cold temperatures to be stored in - near -94 degree F in supercooled containers. This creates immense challenges as far as the distribution and cold chain for the vaccine is concerned. Therefore, it is certainly not a vaccine with which you can think of immunising a lot of people in India, because India just doesn’t have the infrastructure for this kind of a cold chain. Perhaps, some very rich people who can afford to pay a lot of money may be able to afford it, that too if the vaccine finally becomes available in India.”
Dr Shahid Jameel, Virologist

Is All Hope Lost for India?

That’s too harsh. While Pfizer is a no-go for us, we do have other developments to be excited about. According to a Credit Suisse research India's go-to vaccines will be Oxford AstraZeneca, Novovax, Johnson & Johnson and if it clears trials, India's indigenous COVAXIN. Serum Institute of India, the Indian manufacturer of Oxford AstraZenaca vaccine has a capacity to make nearly 800 million doses of the vaccine in a year. 400 million of those are reserved for India. Currently, phase 3 trials are on for the vaccine dubbed as Covishield here. Despite reporting of an adverse event, the Health Ministry has said vaccine development will not be hampered.

“India is in a fairly good position. In the coming months, we are likely to have at least 3 or 4 candidates that are working on the same principle essentially - not mRNA, but the same part of the virus, and hopefully, they will also show efficacy.”
Dr Shahid Jameel, Virologist

Can I Fly to the UK and Get the Vaccine?

Hold your horses and don't book that ticket just yet. The UK has to decide who will get the vaccine in their priority groups first. Top of the list are care home residents and staff, followed by people over 80 and other health and social care workers. Mass immunisation of everyone over 50, as well as younger people with pre-existing health conditions, will get it next as more doses become available.

The UK has order 40 million doses, enough to vaccinate 20 million people.

According to the BBC, around 10m doses should be available soon, with the first 800,000 arriving in the UK in the coming days.

How is India’s COVAXIN different from Pfizer’s vaccine?

“They are very different,” explains Dr Jameel, “COVAXIN is the whole virus. The procedure for such inactivated vaccines is that you grow a lot of the virus, purify it and then kill it with a chemical. This killed virus is then injected. On the other hand, the mRNA vaccine and even the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine are based on a single component from the virus- the spike protein. COVAXIN contains all the proteins that are present in the virus.”

The Bottom Line

Dr Jameel adds that the Pfizer development is “nevertheless, good from the point of view that it has proven a concept of mRNA vaccines,: which is good for science.

While it may not directly impact India as much, it is good that there is positive development in the world of COVID vaccines. On the other hand, India is still in the running with a few vaccine candidates being developed . Read more about India’s vaccine plans here.

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