It was a quarter of a century ago that Dr. Krishna M Ella threw away his well-paying job abroad to start Bharat Biotech, a start-up venture in India. Asked about the reason behind such a decision, he gave credit to his mother and wife—"My wife wanted me to come back to India. They kept pressuring me. My mother once told me, 'All you have is a nine-inch belly. No matter how much you earn, you cannot eat more than enough. Then why should you stay in a foreign country to earn more?’ That question changed his life. That was his motivation to come back to India and do something worthwhile here.
Anyway, the arrival of Dr. Krishna to India was not in vain. It was from the Bharat Biotech company that he kickstarted the dream of India's indigenous Covid vaccine during the Covid era. That dream of Covaxin became one of the cornerstones of the nation's safe defense against the Covid pandemic. Today, Covaxin is being shipped to many countries that were skeptical about India achieving this feat. After Covaxin, Bharat Biotech has also launched an intranasal vaccine called iNCOVACC which can be administered through the nose. It is also the world's first anti-covid nasal vaccine.
Dr. Krishna Ella has taken the bouquets and brickbats of the media at various stages of vaccine development. He mostly tries to stay away from the media and does not want to listen to ‘unnecessary controversies’ or be part of them. Today, the founder of Bharat Biotech, which is becoming a model for other countries and institutions in the field of clinical research, is speaking to 'Malayala Manorama'. He was the chief guest at the professional student summit organized by 'ASAP' in Angamaly in Kerala.
At this point when the country is free from the severity of covid, Bharat Biotech comes up with the nasal Covid vaccine iNCOVACC. What is the relevance of the nasal vaccine at this stage?
Look around us. There are people who have never been vaccinated. Some took only one dose and many have taken two shots. There are those who received the booster dose and those who did not. Some people have not received the vaccine due to many complications such as heart disease, obesity, etc. The intranasal vaccine is useful for such people. After taking two doses, those who have not yet received the booster can safely take the nasal vaccine. This is the world's first covid nasal vaccine. This is also proof that India is at the forefront of implementing new ideas in any field.
Where is iNCOVACC currently available?
We have just started distributing the vaccine outside. It is currently available in major cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, and Hyderabad. A system has been set up to deliver the required vaccine immediately to any hospitals that need it. All they have to do is send an email.
Is there any side-effect to this nasal Covid vaccine?
I can assure you that you won’t have even a mild fever. This nasal vaccine does not cause any fever or chills, as may occur with the injection. It is safe to say that it does not have any side effects that require hospitalization. Not just that, one can say with certainty that INCOVACC is the safest covid vaccine available in the world today. The third dose is truly a miracle. Don’t hesitate to take it. Anyone who has received any vaccine can receive iNCOVACC as a third dose. It will not cause any health problems.
Can children be given the nasal vaccine?
No studies have been conducted on children at this stage. We only have the data for those aged above 18. It is hoped that there won’t be a need for a study on children in the current situation of low Covid spread. However, if a new variant emerges, Bharat Biotech will be able to produce a vaccine for it immediately.
Are we completely free from Covid?
It cannot be said that Covid has completely vanished. Covid can spread from humans to animals and vice versa in different forms. New variants may arise after each such cycle of transmission. Omicron was quite different from Delta. It is also argued that Omicron may be a variant that was transferred from humans to animals and then returned to humans, although there are no authentic studies in this regard.
Should Covid vaccine be included in the National Immunization Plan in the current scenario?
India alone cannot decide on this. It is an international decision. The World Health Organization needs to decide on this after considering the recommendations of various countries. Not much information is known about this at present. However, it is believed that a decision may be made within three to four months. The current Covid situation in China may be the criteria for the decision. Vaccination may also need to be repeated if a new strain emerges in winter.
Covaxin was granted emergency approval before the results of the third phase trial. As a scientist, do you think this was ethical?
Some media outlets are responsible for spreading such misleading propaganda. The monkeypox vaccine was approved 6 years ago after the first two-phase trials. The Ebola vaccine had not even completed animal testing. No one has a problem with European countries giving permission to people directly. The problem is only in allowing India. It was the time of the epidemic, it was a crisis. There was no time to follow all the technicalities, and there was no other way to fight the disease. Aren’t all these enough to prove that our decision was right?
There have been claims that Covid vaccine can cause severe problems. What is your opinion?
An in-depth study of post-Covid changes is essential. A detailed study is also needed on vaccine recipients. Covid is a new experience for the world. It is a new disease. We can understand more about it only through experimental observations. India, as a country that has complete health data on all those who have received the vaccine, can easily conduct such a study. We have health information on those aged between 5 and 99 years. No other country has so much data. However, they haven’t made any efforts to start the research. Let us not delay the process any longer. The health study of those who received the vaccine will be the foundation of not only the treatment of covid tomorrow but also the study of viruses.
We are witnessing different types of fevers post-Covid. Is the virus to blame?
As a scientist, I don't think Covid has a role in it. Everyone was in isolation during the pandemic. Moreover, we were all masked. Due to this, there was a significant reduction in other infectious diseases. But, for now, we have left the masks behind. People are out most of the time. This may have led to more infectious diseases. The nature of infectious diseases, including the flu, may change. Many infectious diseases are coming from different parts of the world. Chikungunya came to Kerala from Madagascar. Such diseases cannot be predicted. It is only after you are infected that can we think of a way to resist them.
Is there a need to increase Covid testing in India?
I don’t believe there is a need to increase the rate of inspection in such a large country. It is required only in case a new variant emerges.