A vial with the Sputnik V vaccine Photographer: Andrey Rudakov | Bloomberg
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New Delhi: A committee of experts recommended the Russian vaccine Sputnik V for emergencies in India on Monday. In episode 722 of ThePrints “Cut the Clutter”, Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta explains how this particular vaccine works and sheds light on India’s “catastrophe” in Covid.
Gupta pointed out that the data on coronavirus cases provided by the Department of Health and Family Welfare is getting worse by the day. The first wave was through September 2020 when the falls hit just over a lakh a day. After that we started to make the curve.
“This was the virus that set off an ambush for us, as it did in every country in the world,” explained Gupta. And now the data shows that the number of people recovering from the virus is much less than the number of new or active cases.
However, the death rate has fallen. “Don’t think that for every 100 people who get sick, as many people die as in March, April, May or June last year. Medicine has discovered many ways to deal with this, ”he added.
This time, however, younger people also become more infected. Gupta claimed we were indulging in an ‘ancient Indian custom’ – “We declared victory over the pandemic too early”. India could have done very well in the first wave and we declared victory. Then the Indians were so busy congratulating themselves and explaining normalcy that they didn’t realize the second wave was coming, he said.
“It happened very gradually. It happened in the days when we were celebrating Holi, when we were declaring elections, ”Gupta said. The number of coronavirus cases has risen sharply in 15 days.
Also read: Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, with over 91% effectiveness, is recommended for emergency use in India
Purchase in “Indian exception”
People have also opted for the “Indian exception” folklore that somehow Indians cannot be killed by the virus. “Nobody is virus-proof,” he said.
Many said India’s success against the first wave had a lot to do with demographics, as younger populations had fewer deaths. We have fewer people over the age of 60 than developed countries, which is why these countries have had higher deaths. But we decided on this “Indian exception” and have become even more “lazy”, said Gupta.
On the issue of vaccinations, Gupta said that nearly 50 percent of the US population shot at least one shot, and nearly 60 percent of the UK population shot two shots. But in India we have maybe nine crore people with two shots. “So look at the size of your population – since we should have responded much faster and made our vaccines ourselves, we should have been much more proactive in placing those orders (for vaccines) – we left it too late,” he said.
Over-centralizing the pandemic response
Gupta also claimed that over-centralization had a lot to do with India’s delay in responding to a pandemic. Some states are much worse than others, for example Maharashtra.
“If the Maharashtra government wanted to be proactive today, they can be blamed, but they weren’t free to do anything because everything is so centralized in Delhi,” he argued. Everything is done by the central government backed by the National Disaster Management Act.
Gupta said everything in India is over-centralized, even the idea of how many vaccines to order, what price is set, what vaccines are released, etc.
Gupta pointed out that India’s drive to nationalize the vaccine can be described as the “North Koreanization” of the Indian vaccine business, as the Indian government has claimed it will decide the price at which the vaccines are sold and who the vaccine could be sold and that it is not exported.
Also read: The Modi government’s panel of experts is expected to meet this week to answer a call about the Sputnik V emergency response
Science behind the Sputnik vaccine
Gupta then focused on the makeup of vaccines like Sputnik V.
There are three non-Indian vaccines in India today: One is Oxford-AstraZeneca from the Serum Institute of India. The Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine, now approved for emergency use, and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are also under review.
“All three follow a similar path. This route is known as the adenovirus route, ”said Gupta. The Sputnik vaccine is a combination of rAd26 and rAd5. rAd stands for recombinant adenovirus.
“What this means is that in this virus, scientists are using genetic engineering to weave the genetic information from a coronavirus spike protein into the adenovirus.” This is then injected into our bodies, he explained. The adenovirus basically becomes a “Trojan horse”.
Scientists squeeze a DNA “impregnated” with the DNA of the coronavirus, essentially telling the cell to produce spike proteins. Other vaccines, such as Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, use messenger RNA (mRNA), a single-stranded or single-stranded DNA.
Gupta spoke about the science behind the vaccines: “This DNA from the coronavirus is impregnated into a Trojan horse, an adenovirus that gets into our bodies,” he said. The cells of our body devour this and reach the cell nucleus. The nucleus then reads out the information it contains and asks the cell to make the spike protein. This information is taken from our nuclei by our own messenger RNA, he said
These go from the nuclei into our cells and produce the spike protein against which antibodies are produced. These spike proteins are later recognized when the actual virus becomes infected.
Watch the full episode here:
Also read: The study shows how the tapeworm infestation drug niclosamide can help treat Covid
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