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Govt officials informed parliamentary panel COVID-19 vaccine not possible until 2021

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A coronavirus vaccine will not be possible till at least next year, government officials told the parliamentary standing committee on science and technology on Friday, amid a global race by scientists and researchers to tackle the pandemic.

In a memo sent to researchers earlier this month, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) had set an ambitious target for developing a vaccine by August 15, surprising experts and drawing indignation from the opposition that said the move was designed to help Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government score political points.

The country’s top clinical research agency later clarified that the letter was “meant to cut unnecessary red tape, without bypassing any necessary process, and speed up recruitment of participants.”

At Friday’s meeting of the lawmakers’ panel held at Parliament, government advisors and officials told MPs that India, a leading manufacturer of vaccines and generic medicines, is expected to play a key role in the worldwide race.

“Nearly 60 per cent of the world’s vaccines are developed in India so we have hope that either India would be in the lead of finding or manufacturing the vaccine,” a senior government official said at the meeting.

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Senior officials of the department of biotechnology, department of scientific and industrial research, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and the principal scientific advisor to the government, K Vijay Raghavan were among those called to brief the committee.

While some members asked about the effectiveness of Yoga teacher Ramdev’s Patanjali Ayurved’s Swasari Coronil kit, controversially launched as a coronavirus cure, there was no response from the scientific community on it.

The first human clinical trials for vaccine candidates being developed in India are set to begin Monday but the Ministry of Science and Technology said last week that although 11 of 140 coronavirus vaccine candidates in the world were in human trials, “none of these are likely to be ready for mass use before 2021”. That line was edited out in a revised version of the statement.

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