The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc across India in general and Maharashtra and Gujarat in particular. The healthcare system of the country has been brutally exposed and brought down on its knees. Crematoriums and Ambulances are failing to keep up with the inflow of bodies, dead and alive. While all of this paints a horrifying picture, much like we saw in France and the USA during the first wave, there have been two important developments in India with regard to this:
- Remdesivir has been pushed as a drug for the patients suffering from the virus, leading to its shortage and black-marketing.
- India has approved Russia’s Sputnik-V vaccine for immediate use against COVID.
The Remdesivir Conundrum
It was in 2020 when the speculation of Remdesivir being effective against the deadly virus hit the market. While it did bring hope, but the joy was short-lived as the World Health Organization came out with a conditional advisory regarding the broad-spectrum antiviral drug. Predicated on the clinical trials, the WHO issued guidelines against the use of Remdesivir in hospitalised COVID-19 patients last year itself.
In recent developments, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said that there is still no evidence to indicate that Remdesivir is beneficial in treating hospitalised coronavirus patients. WHO’s Chief Scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan and its Technical Lead on COVID, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, on Monday told India Today TV that findings from five clinical trials in the past show that the use of the anti-viral drug has not helped in curtailing mortality or reducing the need for mechanical ventilation among hospitalised COVID-19 patients.
Talking about the prior clinical trials of Remdesivir, Dr. Swaminathan said, “Based on available evidence, there were about five trials… which essentially showed that Remdesivir given to hospitalised patients, didn’t reduce mortality, it didn’t reduce the duration of hospitalisation and it didn’t affect the progression of the disease”.
However, highlighting the only potential silver lining in the case of Remdesivir, Dr Swaminathan said, “there are smaller studies that have shown, in some small subgroups, perhaps some marginal benefits, like some patients who need low flow oxygen, the NIH trial showed that there was perhaps a marginal mortality benefit but that is a very small subgroup of patients.” She further stated that WHO was still awaiting results from a larger clinical study to ascertain if Remdesivir could be helpful in the treatment of coronavirus cases at all. The data of the trial is expected to come out in a few weeks’ time. Simultaneously, several cases of hoarding and black-marketing of the anti-viral drug have come to light.
Sputnik-V and Its Controversial Existence
Russia started clinical trials of a COVID-19 vaccine in June 2020. Less than two months later, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that the Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology had registered the world’s first COVID-19 vaccine for use. Phase 3 trials, which usually involve thousands of people and last several months, hadn’t even started at that point. Therefore, many health experts warned that the data was not conclusive and questioned the vaccine’s safety. Shortly after that, Russia announced that it would expand trials for the vaccine and include up to 40,000 volunteers. Phase 3 trials then began in September 2020.
After vaccinating some of the country’s medical workers, a large-scale rollout started in December 2020. At this point, the vaccine was still undergoing testing. Two weeks later, Belarus became the first foreign country to register the Russian vaccine (Sputnik-V) for use. Despite serious concerns by experts that the vaccine was rushed out without the necessary trials, more than 40 countries have so far decided to put their faith in it and, to varying degrees, have approved Sputnik V for use. Here’s what you need to know about it.
The Digpu News Bottomline
There is no concrete proof of Remdesivir being effective against COVID according to WHO but in India, politics has already started around this broad-spectrum anti-viral drug. The Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chauhan has already announced that the state government will procure free Remdesivir for the citizens living below the poverty line in the state. At the same time, drug has become an instant hit in the black market with prices going to as high as Rs.40,000/- per vial. Black-marketing rackets involving Doctors and even politicians have already been busted in Gujarat, Bengaluru and Mumbai. Notably in Bengaluru, a family was forced to purchase three doses of the drug for Rs. 40,000/-, Rs. 30,000/-, and Rs. 20,000/-.
One fails to understand why a drug that has not proven effective against the virus is being pushed so much and is causing such a ruckus. In a bid to build international relations has the Modi-government exported too many vaccine doses and left its own citizens to fend for their lives? Is Remdesivir being pushed to cover up the vaccine shortage? We need to ponder upon these questions.
On the other hand, granting emergency nod to Russia’s Sputnik V also raises concerns. Interestingly, as of February 16 2021, there were only three vaccines in the world that have received approval from the WHO, the Pfizer-Biotech BNT162b2/COMIRNATY Tozinameran (INN), the Oxford-AstraZeneca AZD1222, and the Serum Institute of India’s Covishield (ChAdOx1_nCoV19).
If India’s own vaccine is capable and effective, why is the government pushing something as controversial as the Sputnik V? Once again, have we run out of Covishield because we exported too much of it? Why was Remdesivir export banned when it should have been the vaccines?