Explainer on Pakistan's vaccine trial launch
It is a common misconception that a COVID-19 vaccine, when developed, will end the pandemic.
Dr Syed Faisal Mehmood of Aga Khan University said this at a webinar, ‘COVID-19 Vaccine Trial Launch in Pakistan’, organised on Thursday by the Medical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases Society of Pakistan.
Several other misconceptions were addressed by health experts.
Dr Mehmood said the vaccine does not contain the virus SARS-CoV-2 as inactivated adenoviruses are usually used. It is incapable of producing a disease in the body because it cannot replicate.
He said it is wrong that the vaccine cannot be administered to the elderly and that it has lots of side effects.
Pakistanis, he said, are not being used as “guinea pigs” for foreign vaccines. “Trials are being conducted in different countries,” he said.
He refuted the idea of the vaccine being ready by the end of the year. It will take 10-15 years to develop.
“The vaccine does not contain micro-chips. Such technology doesn’t exist,” he said.
Dr Naseem Salahuddin explained the science behind the vaccine and how it works. She said they first started with nine to 10 volunteers, and now they have 50 to 55 volunteers a day.
“People are losing their fear seeing others around them volunteering,” said Dr Salahuddin.
“The underprivileged are provided a compensation of Rs5,000 on their first visit which will be raised by Rs2,000 by the end of the year,” she said. Compensation is provided to cover their basic expenses, such as transport fares, food, etc.
“We have always relied on other countries to help to us,” said Dr Bushra Jamil of AKU. “This is the first time Pakistan is participating in data analysis.”
National Institute of Health Executive Director Prof Dr Aamer Ikram spoke at length about the Chinese pharmaceutical company CanSino Biologics which is conducting the trial in Pakistan.
“There’s no dearth of expertise in Pakistan,” said Ikram. It is an honour for Pakistan to be participating in the third phase of the COVID-19 vaccine trial.
“The Chinese government has guaranteed us a quota of free vaccines,” he said. “It will cover 20% of our entire population.”
Ikram said all international protocols and ethics are being followed in the trials. He urged people to focus on their strengths and positivity and refrain from spreading misinformation.
“Every single person involved in clinical research will make a significant contribution towards finding an effective vaccine for COVID-19,” said Dr Salma Abbas of Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital.
You can participate in the trial if you:
• Are healthy and over 18 years of age
• Have no prior history of COVID-19
• Are not pregnant
Dr Ejaz Khan presented the results of the vaccine studied in China. He said concerted efforts in computational biology, protein engineering, gene synthesis and advanced manufacturing platforms are required for an effective vaccine against COVID-19.
“We require high speed and precision to develop a COVID-19 vaccine,” he said. “But a vaccine requires 10 to 15 years to develop because there are a number of phases involved in the process,” he added.
The pre-clinical results of Ad5 vectored COVID-19 vaccine for immunogenicity, protection and toxicity in animal models (mice, guinea pigs, ferrets, rats, rhesus) demonstrated that the vaccine is safe.
The immunogenicity data showed the Ad5-nCoV vaccine had induced a strong immune response in adults of 18 to 60 years of age.
Khan said to study the vaccine’s efficacy, 40,000 to 60,000 volunteers will receive the vaccine in the third phase (50% vaccine, 50% placebo). They will then be monitored closely for a year or two for any signs of COVID-19.
He added that the fourth phase involves monitoring production and testing the vaccines for potency, safety and purity.