Monkeypox vaccination production in India

The global monkeypox (a part of the same family of viruses as the variola virus) outbreak has seen more than 30,000 cases in nearly 80 countries since May 2022.  India’s first case of Monkeypox, a viral disease whose initial cluster was found in the United Kingdom, had been confirmed in Kerala on 14th July 2022. Just after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared monkeypox as a public health emergency, India has reported a sum of 10 cases and 1 fatality to date.   
 
The disease has an effective vaccine preventive treatment. The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) has studied past data from Africa which suggests that the smallpox vaccine is at least 85 per cent effective in preventing monkeypox. With several countries like the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, etc. announcing the purchase of the vaccine, India too announced a bid for vaccine production.  

India has already initiated discussions for the creation of proper kits and medical supplies in case the number of cases rapidly. Additionally, the government is also in talks with other players about the creation of vaccines. Currently, the Danish drugmaker Bavarian Nordic’s smallpox vaccine Imvanex has received approval in the European Union to be used against Monkeypox.  
 
While the indigenous research for the monkeypox vaccine is ongoing in the National Institute of Virology in Pune where an individual specimen of the virus has been taken from a patient to further be analyzed, the bid for vaccines has also become important. In India, there is a shortage of doses for vaccine efficacy. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has asked companies to submit expressions of interest to develop the vaccine and diagnostic kits under the public-private partnership model by 10th August 2022. The ICMR’s announcement of an expression of interest is done to fasten the process of making an indigenous vaccine with the help of Indian vaccine producers, pharmaceutical firms, and in-vitro diagnostic industry partners.  

Post the release of the Expression of Interest (EOI) for the development of vaccine and diagnostic kits, The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has received 31 bids from manufacturers showing interest in developing vaccines against the monkeypox virus. Out of the 31 bids, 8 companies have submitted the EOI for the vaccine development and 23 firms have shown interest in the development of medical kits. 

Private investors are also purchasing the shares of companies in various sectors that could see a rise in their share prices due to their involvement in the mitigation of the disease in India and abroad. The companies with the highest demand include biotech companies. However, the companies with huge investor demand also include companies that provide viral testing and kits. The high utility of these productions is going to be eminent in the coming days.  

Recently, Canada, the European Union, and the United States have approved a smallpox vaccine dose to be administered. In India, the smallpox dose was stopped around 1978 after the smallpox disease was eliminated. Hence, the population below 45 years old in India is at a high risk of exposure. This makes the vaccine demand even more huge given India’s major chunk of the population is below 45. Medical experts have recommended the immediate usage of the vaccines to key groups. This group includes healthcare workers, contacts of confirmed cases, and people who are potentially more at risk (for example immune deficient people).  

Another key aspect that requires careful attention is the testing of the monkeypox virus. Testing of the virus would require funding for the creation of adequate testing centres. There are currently 15 labs in India that are working on the testing of monkeypox.  However, India would require the creation of more testing labs in the future which would require additional funding and assistance.  

The public-private mode of production has been immensely beneficial in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. The model includes the partnership between the private sector and the public sector by the signing of government-issued tenders. The successful immunization campaign against coronavirus was possible due to the involvement of private and public sectors in vaccine production and its wide distribution to the masses.  

With the public-private partnership model and the growing rise of investors, the economic atmosphere is set right for vaccine and other medical supply production in India. Finally, Biotech and pharma companies along with the medical kit and diagnostic kit producers need to ramp up their initiative to produce more medical supplies and at the same time focus on R&D for the vaccine. By working alongside, it would be a win-win situation for the investors as well as the country.  

This article has been authored by Priyanka Cardoz and Surabhi Menon.