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Bharat Biotech's Covaxin has potential to target new strain: ICMR chief

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New Delhi, Jan 02: Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) director Balram Bhargava on Sunday said that the Bharat Biotech vaccine may have some advantages over other vaccines on the new mutant strain first detected in the UK.

His observations came amid politicians from several opposition parties raising doubts over the efficacy of Covaxin, that is still in Phase 3 trials.

ICMR chief Balram Bhargava

Bhargava also said Covaxin is based on an inactivated whole virus, having potential to target mutated coronavirus strains including the UK variant, which was a major ground for giving it a conditional nod.

He, however, said no clear data regarding the efficacy of the vaccine is available so far.

'Disgraceful’: Harsh Vardhan slams Akhilesh, Tharoor over Covid-19 vaccine 'doubts’

"We don't know for how long a vaccine is going to be effective, we don't know how much of the population we will have to vaccinate to break the virus transmission. What we know is that we have been able to control the pandemic in the country by following Covid appropriate behaviour," Bhargava told ANI.

"NIV scientists have successfully isolated the new virus strain and this will be tested against different vaccines. We hope potentially Bharat Biotech vaccine will have some advantages over other vaccines on this new strain,," Dr Bhargava said.

Health Minister Harsh Vardhan asserted on Sunday that Covaxin is more likely to work against newer variants of the virus, including the UK variant, and asked politicians not to "discredit well laid out science-backed protocols" followed for approving the jab.

Some Congress leaders, including Anand Sharma, Shashi Tharoor and Jairam Ramesh, on Sunday raised serious concerns over the grant of approval to Covaxin for restricted use, saying it is "premature" and can prove dangerous.

Responding to them, Vardhan said it is "disgraceful for anyone to politicise such a critical issue."

Tagging Tharoor, Ramesh and Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yavad, the health minister said in a tweet, "...don''t try to discredit well laid out science-backed protocols followed for approving #COVID19vaccines. Wake up & realise you are only discrediting yourselves!"

Vardhan said, "COVAXIN is more likely to work against newer variants like N501Y Variant (UK variant) & any other that may arise due to antigenic drift as it contains immunogens (epitopes) from other genes in addition to those from Spike protein."

Covaxin has been indigenously developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

The data generated so far demonstrates a strong immune response (both antibody as well as T cell) and in-vitro viral neutralisation. The ongoing clinical trial is the largest trial on 25,800 subjects, in which already 23,000 volunteers have been enrolled including subjects with comorbid conditions, and the vaccine has demonstrated safety till date, Bhargava said.

India's drugs regulator on Sunday approved Oxford COVID-19 vaccine Covishield, manufactured by the Serum Institute, and indigenously developed Covaxin of Bharat Biotech for restricted emergency use in the country, paving the way for a massive inoculation drive.

The Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) granted the approval on the basis of recommendations by a COVID-19 Subject Expert Committee (SEC) of the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO).

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