Monkeys as unsung Covid heroes: India's Covaxin was successfully tested on 20 monkeys first

India became the fifth country to isolate a strain of the coronavirus as the country recorded several milestones in its fight against the diseases - tracing the contacts of the first case diagnosed in India in January 2020

Nov 24, 2021
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India's Covaxin was successfully tested on 20 monkeys first

India became the fifth country to isolate a strain of the coronavirus as the country recorded several milestones in its fight against the diseases - tracing the contacts of the first case diagnosed in India in January 2020; sprucing up testing and becoming the first to use antigen tests; beginning testing on-demand in September; going on to send testing kits to other parts of the world; and the landmark successful testing of the indigenously developed vaccine Covaxin on 20 monkeys that became a turning point in the creation of the vaccine.

Referring to the monkeys as “unsung heroes”, ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) Director-General, Dr Balram Bhargava, speaking on the journey of the creation and approval of Covaxin, said, “there are no breeding facilities, we had to get monkeys from the wild… We had to capture the monkeys… We got all permissions within 24 hours, got the monkey catchers who ventured into the forests along the Telangana border, Karnataka border, Maharashtra. They were able to capture 24 monkeys within a week…”
 
“We had to test the monkeys for their entire biochemical profile, their X-ray, blood test to demonstrate that they are healthy… To test the monkeys for the vaccine, they had to be given the virus by bronchoscopy… we didn’t have any such specialists at NIV… we had one pulmonologist who had just returned from Italy, Kshitij Agarwal. He was flown by an IAF flight to Pune overnight and, along with experts from CTC Pune, did the bronchoscopy… From day 7 onwards, samples were collected by bronchoscopy from the monkeys every day… and lo and behold, the virus did not grow. 

"That was the turning point… the hope on the horizon,” he was quoted as saying in Indian media. 

“The vaccines are holding up, we are not seeing breakthrough infections causing a surge in our admissions, our seropositivity rate is very high. All of these suggest that as of now, we really don’t need a booster dose. We may need it in the future, that is definitely there. But as of now, we don’t need a booster dose,” he said. “We are well protected and I think we should focus on getting more and more people to get the first and second dose because if we have that number in a sufficiently large amount, we will be well protected as a country,” Dr Randeep Guleria, Director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) said. 

On the possibility of a third wave, Dr Guleria said: “As our vaccination programme is moving forward, as we are seeing low vaccine hesitancy and as we are seeing the vaccines are holding out – in terms of preventing severe disease and preventing hospitalisation and death – the chance of any huge wave is declining with each passing day. It is very unlikely that we will see a huge third wave.”

“But the disease will become endemic and we will continue to have cases… we will have some patients who will be sick but it will not be of the magnitude that we saw in the first and second waves and most of us will be protected.”

Dr Guleria was speaking at the launch of “Going Viral”, a book on the making of Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, in New Delhi.  (SAM)