Rising COVID cases likely to hit Pharma supply chain

vaccine

Just when everyone thought the worst is over, the Coronavirus strikes again. The virus which spread like wildfire in December 2019, has once again soared in China along with other countries. The recent surge in COVID-19 cases overwhelmed hospitals, and crematoriums in China have brought back grim reminders of the devastating impact of the virus. This has forced the central government to review the situation in India.

Union Minister Mansukh Mandaviya on Wednesday urged the people to follow Covid-appropriate behavior, including wearing masks, maintaining social distancing, washing hands frequently, and getting vaccinated. He also directed officials to “fully gear up and strengthen surveillance”.

India so far has reportedly registered four COVID-19 cases caused by the BF.7 variant — three cases reported from Gujarat and one from Odisha. Reportedly, all four patients were either asymptomatic or had mild symptoms and have now recovered.

Experts from the pharma industry have shown their concerns, expecting that the supply chain may be affected if the current wave lasts for an extended period.

It is to be noted that if the surge in COVID-19 cases continues, the supply of active ingredients and components which comes mostly from China as well as the import and export of APIs and medicines may be affected.

Considering this, India on a preparedness front will have to pick up the pace of its vaccine drive to ensure that each citizen is safe from this virus, experts say.

Showing resilience and adaptability, the pharmaceutical sector over the past 3 years, has stood strong against the challenges posed by supply chain disruption in these unprecedented times when hit by the global COVID-19 pandemic. Once again, as the virus rises, the pharma industry will need to be on alert and take into cognizance the various silos across the entire supply chain of the industry that could be impacted as a result of the increase in cases in China. 

On Thursday, the Serum Institute of India (SII) sought the drug regulator’s approval for market authorization of its COVID-19 vaccine Covovax as a booster dose for those aged 18 years and above who have been administered two doses of Covishield or Covaxin.

Taking into account the consistent decline in COVID-19 in the past couple of months, several pharma companies in India have either decreased or halted the production of new COVID-19 vaccines.

In October this year, the Chief Executive Officer of Serum Institute of India (SII), Adar Poonawalla, said the vaccine manufacturer stopped the production of the Covishield vaccine starting December 2021.

He said that the total stock available at that time, around 100 million doses, had already got expired by December last year.

The booster vaccines have no demand as there is “general lethargy” among people and also because they are “fed up with the pandemic,” Poonawalla said.  

Consequently, the availability of vaccine doses could pose a challenge in the coming days as there could be a sudden scramble by the unvaccinated to get the shot.

Even though the pharma companies have stopped the production of the vaccines, the Centre reportedly maintains that it has sufficient stocks of vaccines available. 

India’s Preparedness

As per reports, the random testing of international passengers at airports in India that had stopped after a revision in travel advisories in November-end will start again.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took stock of the COVID-19 situation and held a high-level virtual meeting. The meeting was attended by Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya, Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, and NITI Aayog CEO, among others.

While India has been witnessing a steady decline in cases with average daily cases falling to 158 in the week ending December 19, 2022. However, a consistent rise in global daily average cases has been reported in the last 6 weeks, with 5.9 lakh daily average cases reported in the last week. Looking at the consistent rise, the Indian government has asked the authorities to ramp up genome sequencing across the country. The states have been requested to send samples of all Covid-19 positive cases to INSACOG Genome Sequencing Laboratories (IGSLs) daily, for sequencing.

In June this year, the Union health ministry issued Operational Guidelines for Revised Surveillance Strategy in the context of Covid-19 which calls for early detection, isolation, testing, and timely management of suspected and confirmed cases to detect and contain outbreaks of new SARS-CoV-2 variants.

Health minister Mandaviya has again directed officials for ensuring effective implementation of the same.

The new and highly transmissible BF.7 strain of the Omicron variant is behind a wider surge of Covid infections in China. And, it is most likely to spread to other parts of the world and even in India, there are a few cases of this new variant. 

It is not yet clear which age group is most affected, although persons with inadequate immunity are at a higher risk.

Vaccination and booster dose are going to play a major role in fighting the virus. 

At the same time, one will need to follow the same precautionary measures including maintaining proper hygiene, wearing a mask, washing hands, and so on. 

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