It’s like a rerun of the space race of the 1960s as the world waits expectantly for the promised silver bullet of a vaccine against the coronavirus.
The first nation to produce an effective, mass-produced vaccine could help their people achieve near normality while shedding a morbid fear of the virus.
Most governments have failed to contain Covid-19 as evidenced in mounting caseload and their only hope is to get their hands on “the holy grail”, the hunt for which is, however, being driven by politics more than science.
Vladimir Putin of Russia jumped the gun in claiming success first but far from giving Russia another Sputnik moment brought only scepticism and West-inspired rumours that his daughter who got vaccinated had died.
For obvious reasons, Donald Trump wants a working vaccine before Election Day (November 3). Narendra Modi had put out a teaser hinting at Independence Day heralding a magic “Made in India” moment.
On the other hand, China is already vaccinating thousands of health care and other workers on an urgent basis through a mass programme run by the military.
Authoritarian governments in Russia and China can hand out hurriedly developed vaccines or even placebos to its people. The free world must let science take the lead in passing careful judgment on the 78 vaccines that are confirmed as "active" now.
USA’s Moderna with its mRNA-based vaccine and UK’s Oxford University-Jenner Institute with their adenovirus variety are the scientific leaders in developing a vaccine that can be franchised to production lines in record time once third phase clinical trials have evaluated their safety.
Realistically, a vaccine is months away, which gives time for countries to plan on how to achieve an equitable distribution. India is lucky to have the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer on its soil and so access should not be a problem.
However, given the play of divisive politics, the fear is over how well we will manage the humongous task of inoculating more than 100 crore people....