Scientists take first step to work on coronavirus vaccine, but it’s complicated

Senior health ministry officials have said that it will take one-and-a-half-years to two years to develop a vaccine for coronavirus. The officials also said that the government has around one lakh testing kits available.

“Even if it is vaccine, we need to understand that it will take not less than one and half years to two years with expedited clinical trials and expedited approvals to actually see it being used, if successful, on human beings,” Dr Ganga Ketkar, from Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), said at a press conference on Thursday.

Further elaborating the counter measures employed by the government to tackle the spread of Covid-19, the disease cause by novel coronavirus, Dr Ketkar said that the scientists have been able to isolate the virus.

“Coronaviruses are difficult to isolate. But our first efforts to isolate have been successful. Now we have close to about 11 isolates of coronavirus which are available. That’s a prime requisite for doing any kind of research related to coronaviruses. Now that you have the virus, it is safer to start from that base rather than the sequence of the gene to look at what should be the epitopes – those which can lead to development of anti-bodies more effectively – what are those regents which should be used in vaccines,” said Dr Ketkar.

“We have to also understand that even if you provide vaccine to prevent infection, when the infection tends to occur, there could be a flare-up. So, if you actually look at it, we need to factor the part that it could take a long time, and there could be potential hazards; the reality is, the virus is here. First, we must try to prevent it as much as possible, contain it and wait for things to happen,” he added.

The government is working on war footing to tackle the spread of the virus, which has reached more than 90 countries and infected over one lakh people.

Lav Aggarwal, Joint Secretary, Union Health Ministry said that 52 testing facilities are located across the country, and a total of 56 sample collection centres have been established. “We already have around 1 lakh testing kits available, additional testing kits have already been ordered and they are also in procurement,” he said.

“Luckily, in India, we do not have any community transmission. We have only a few cases that have come from outside and they have primarily affected their close family members,” added Aggarwal.

The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases across India, including foreign nationals, has gone up to 73. Out of these 73 people, 56 are Indian citizens. With 17 coronavirus positive cases, the maximum number of cases in the country has been reported from Kerala.

Maharashtra reported 11 cases while in Uttar Pradesh there were 10 positive cases including a foreigner, according to the latest data provided by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

The government has taken several steps to contain the virus, including suspension of all visas to India till April 15, after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic.

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