No matter how great the talent or efforts, some things just take time
The head of the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) need not normally require investment banker Warren Buffet to tell him that one cannot produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant.
But what Mr Buffet said along with it will be of interest to the pointman of medical research in India: No matter how great the talent or efforts, some things just take time.
Had he known it, he would not have had to make a hasty retreat after embarking on a journey with an unlikely target to produce a vaccine for pandemic Covid-19 for public health use by August 15, this year.
The ICMR chief’s about-turn is welcome but it should be seen as the sign of the times when regulators forget their mandate and play to the gallery where politicians sit.
His letter on July 2 asking the 12 hospitals participating in the clinical trial of the vaccine, being produced by a private company, to fast-track the process had shocked the scientific community.
They pointed out that the human trials of the inactivated BBV152 or Covaxin, to begin on July 7 by Bharat Biotech along with the ICMR and the National Institute of Virology, Pune, will be required to follow certain well-accepted processes and it could take a time between one to two-and a half year to complete them.
Every step in it will depend on the data factors such as the adverse effects of vaccine, discrepancies in human body reactions and antibody studies which made the scientists sceptical about the 38-day deadline. It is true that globally accepted fast-track mode allows for elimination of one or two steps which are repetitive.
Even such a process should take eight months to a year to complete clinical trials, data testing and checking the accuracy and efficacy of vaccine.
Given the stiff resistance and ridicule the directive evoked, the ICMR said the spirit of the letter was to eliminate red tape; and none should quarrel with the research body on it.
All Indians would be happy if India comes out first with a vaccine against Covid-19; they would be happier if there is an antidote to bureaucratic delays as well.
One may wonder why not the ICMR concentrate on how it updates the treatment protocols of the infection based on latest information available. Reports of the efficacy of the treatment improving come from various parts of the county and the world.
A doctor who served in the Dharavi slums in Mumbai which chased the virus out is on record saying patients in intensive care units need augmented supply of oxygen than other patients and hence liquid oxygen cylinders are required.
Doctors also talk of successfully experimenting with novel combinations of medicines for patients with different kinds of complications.
These are suggestions which need careful assessment and immediate action. The ICMR will do the nation a great service if it works on such nuances instead of initiating unheard of practices in a discipline such as medical research. Some things just take time; please don’t rush them.