By Seema Hakhu Khachru
The Texas-India vaccine diplomacy, a collaboration for shared global health between Indian pharmaceutical company Biological E and the Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine, has led to the development of a cost-efficient vaccine against COVID-19 for USD 1.50 per dose, according to a top American scientist.
Addressing the annual 2021 gala of the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Houston (IACCGH) on Saturday, October 31, Dr. Peter Hotez, Dean National School of Tropical Medicine; professor of pediatrics, molecular virology, and molecular biology, at Baylor College of Medicine, said the collaboration has led to the development of the low-cost people’s vaccine in record times. It will help vaccinate the world’s low-income countries in the coming months to fill the 9 billion gap, Hotez said.”The COVID-19 vaccine, which will be released for emergency use in India soon, will produce 100 million doses per month. It has been tough, but the most fulfilling activity I’ve ever been involved with,” he said. The World Health Organisation (WHO) respects the Biological E, he said. “It mentioned, once a vaccine is released in India, we will most likely move pretty close to do emergency assistance for global usage, so the world can benefit from it as well,” Hotez said. “Our shared goal is to make this vaccine available not only for India, but all of the world’s low- and middle-income countries as a means to end the pandemic,” Hotez said during his keynote address.
“We are being contacted by various middle-income countries in Asia and Africa, and working to transfer our production cell bank to them or have them work directly through Bio-E,” he said. Hotez said that this adventure would never have happened without the brilliance of Indian scientists and various Texas philanthropists, including Texas Children Hospital and M D Anderson Foundation, who raised USD 7 million for vaccine development.
Appreciating Indian vaccine producers amidst thunderous applause from over 600 attendees at the 22nd IACCGH gala, Hotez said, “India’s vaccine producers are actually “India’s gift to the world”.
For decades, producers like the Serum Institute of India, Biological E, and Bharat Biotech have established the unique ecosystem needed to provide vaccines for measles, whooping cough, and tetanus to the world’s low- and middle-income countries, he said.
“Since our vaccine uses an older yeast fermentation technology, we needed a manufacturing partner who could do this under a quality umbrella and without failure. It wasn’t easy to find one, but the answer was only India after we were connected to Biological E, through mutual colleagues, who work with the Gates Foundation,” he said.
Without the need of patents, the production cell bank was transferred to Biological E and then began exchanging reagents and knowledge, speaking several times a week via Zoom or phone, Hotez said.
“We worked together to co-develop the vaccine, which in clinical trials looked great, potentially offering protection as good as mRNA vaccines but for a fraction of the price USD 1.50 per dose, and simple refrigeration and easy to administer,” he said. “There are over 1 billion people in Sub-Saharan Africa, 650 million in Latin America, another 1 billion people in smaller, low-income Asian countries, who need to be vaccinated badly. “Altogether, we needed 9 billion doses of vaccines, a daunting task in a short period of time. The mRNA and adenovirus vectored vaccines were always going to be made in sufficient amounts for North America and Europe but not the rest of the world due to its cost,” Hotez said.
He also warned that there are dark forces at work seeking to undermine vaccines.”At least 100,000 lost their lives to Delta and “anti-science aggression” from the political right, but we need to uncouple anti-science from far-right extremism. Ultimately science will save mankind,” he said.
India’s Ambassador to the US Taranjit Singh Sandhu, who was the chief guest at the gala, highlighted the deepening of the strategic relationship between India and the US. This relationship is a meeting of minds and hearts, he said. “US global strategic partnership continues to grow from strength to strength, the landmark visit of the Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) for the India-US bilateral summit and the first in-person Quad Leaders’ Summit recently is a testament to the enduring ties between the two countries,” Sandhu said. “As India enters the 75th year of independence, we continue to make rapid strides in building a prosperous and secure country. I am confident that the Indian American community here will further contribute to these efforts and further deepen the India-US partnership,” he said.
Since this was Sandhu’s first visit to Houston, he visited NASA, BAPS Temple, University of Houston, a post office named after Sikh police officer Sandeep Singh Dhaliwal and held meetings with elected officials, healthcare professionals, business leaders from a range of fields.
“These engagements provided political momentum to move the relationship forward. From health sector cooperation to combating climate change to partnership in critical and emerging technology to strategic cooperation in the Indo Pacific, there is no sphere of human activity that is untouched by the India-US relationship,” Sandhu told PTI.
Ambassador Sandhu said that during a discussion with President Joe Biden, Prime Minister Narendra Modi identified five Ts that would define the partnership, tradition, talent, trade, technology, and trusteeship. All the five aspects are underscored by a defining element of trust between the two countries. The Prime Minister’s visit was a demonstration of that trust and of the enduring strength in our partnership, he said. “Broadly, our relations are focused on five key areas: strategic and defense relations, cooperation in the healthcare sector (may like to mention – DFC – Biological E finalization of financing last week), cooperation in the areas of climate change and energy, technological and innovation cooperation and lastly the knowledge partnership,” Sandhu added.
The gala was attended by Houston’s top industry leaders, elected federal and local officials, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Congressmen and their representatives, Consul General of India in Houston Aseem R Mahajan, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, Fort Bend Indian American Judge K P George.
IACCGH founder and executive director Jagdip Ahluwalia spoke of the chamber’s efforts in dealing with the fallout of the pandemic and promoting entrepreneurship during these challenging times and extending help both locally and by sending medical equipment to India to combat the Covid crisis early this year.
Tarush Anand, President IACCGH, said: “We were able to host webinars addressing new employment law issues created by the pandemic, doing business globally in these trying times, providing real solutions in a virtual world”.
The honorees at this year’s gala included the Lifetime Achievement Award for Dr. David Leebron, President Rice University, for outstanding leadership that has made Rice University a globally recognized, top-notch educational and research institute.
IACCGH woman of the year was awarded to Sultana Mangalji for her contribution to the early development of the Westmont hospitality group and her role of fulfilling the group’s social corporate responsibility.
Corporate Citizen of the year award was given to LyondellBasell-for lead role in co-founding the Alliance to end plastic waste (AEPW) and recycling of plastics. Special Award was given to US SBA and Wallis Bank for public-private partnership.
Sewa International was honored with the Community Service Award for its selfless service and frontline efforts to help those impacted by the pandemic.