Touted as India’s first bio-science movie, The Vaccine War finally arrived in theatres on 28 September 2023. Directed by Vivek Agnihotri, the film honours the efforts of the scientific and medical communities that meticulously worked during the COVID-19 pandemic. What makes the story more interesting is the fact that The Vaccine War is based on a true story.
Starring Nana Patekar, Pallavi Joshi, Raima Sen, Anupam Kher, Girija Oak, Nivedita Bhattacharya, Sapthami Gowda, and Mohan Kapur in key roles, The Vaccine War has drawn inspiration from the true story of the birth of Covaxin during the COVID-19 pandemic in India. Let’s dig deep and learn about how several scientists at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) – National Institute of Virology came about making the vaccine.
The inspiring true story behind the plot of 2023 movie The Vaccine War
Bharat Biotech collaborated with the Indian Council of Medical Research – National Institute of Virology to create Covaxin, which is a whole-inactivated virus-based COVID-19 vaccine. By October 2021, 110.6 million people in India received the vaccine, after which the World Health Organization (WHO) also validated the vaccine for emergency use in 13 countries.
The development of the antidote
The scientists at ICMR took a sample of SARS-CoV-2 to grow large quantities of the virus using Vero cells. After achieving this step, they soaked the viruses in beta-propiolactone (BPL). This helped in deactivating them by attaching to their genes, while leaving other viral particles unharmed. The result was inactivated viruses, which were then mixed with the aluminium-based adjuvant Alhydroxiquim-II to create the antidote.
The clinical trials of the vaccine
Vivek Agnihotri’s movie The Vaccine War will showcase the true story of how the clinical trials of the vaccine were carried out. It all started in May 2020 after the National Institute of Virology gave a nod to providing the virus strains for developing a fully indigenous COVID-19 vaccine. Within a month, Phase I and Phase II human trials of the COVID-19 vaccine began. Indian Council for Medical Research selected twelve sites for the trails.
They published the results of the Phase I trial in January 2021, after which the company published Phase TT trial results in March 2021. Phase II trials had a higher immune response, but it needed to be more efficient. In November 2020, Phase III human trials were conducted. Around 26,000 volunteers of age group 18 and above, from across 22 sites in India took the vaccine.
By this time a new variant of the virus was identified in the UK. However, a vitro study suggested that Covaxin was effective in neutralizing the new Alpha variant or lineage B.1.1.7 strain as well. Furthermore, to evaluate the vaccine’s real-world effectiveness, Bharat Biotech started Phase IV trials in June 2021. It also started clinical trials in the age group of 2 to 18 years. Further research suggested that the vaccine was also able to neutralize the effects of lineage B.1.617, the Zeta variant or lineage P.2, the Delta (B.1.617.2) and Beta (B.1.351) variants. The true story behind this achievement of the scientific and medical communities may also be a part of Nana Patekar’s 2023 movie The Vaccine War.
Authorisation of the vaccine across the globe
In January 2021, the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) granted permission to Bharat Biotech to use Covaxin as an emergency antidote. By October, Covaxin was approved for usage on children between 2-8 years of age.
This was followed by approval in Iran and Zimbabwe. In March 2021, Nepal granted EUA for Covaxin. Mexico gave authorisation for Covaxin in April and then the Philippines followed by Guatemala, Nicaragua, Guyana, Venezuela and Botswana. India’s deal with Brazil did not come through because of several reasons.
Mauritius, Paraguay and Argentina also received commercial supply of Covaxin. The World Health Organization (WHO) gave a nod to using the vaccine for emergency use on 3 November 2021. However, the procurement of Covaxin was suspended in 2022 after a subsequent inspection of manufacturing facilities.
Hero & Feature Image: Courtesy IMDb