Collaboration in science, particularly health sciences, and technology has been an enduring feature of the U.S.-India relationship for over three decades. Many special initiatives have been undertaken over the years in an effort to advance cooperation more rapidly and effectively in these areas. One of the most important and successful initiatives has been the Indo-U.S. Vaccine Action Program (VAP).
In 1984, Dr. Fred Robbins, a U.S. Nobel Laureate in Medicine, visited India which prompted discussions on how to utilize research technology advances to address needs for new and better vaccines, specifically for diseases of importance to India. This helped initiate a series of actions that ultimately led to the signing of a Government-to-Government Memorandum of Understanding and the establishment of VAP in July 1987. Since then, this agreement has been renewed every five years.
The existence of VAP demonstrates the consensus that vaccines are among the most cost-effective health technologies and that their widespread use is key to controlling the burden of vaccine-preventable diseases worldwide. With the emergence and re-emergence of infectious diseases and increasing attention to health programs that promote child survival, there is continued interest in attacking this important category of diseases across the full spectrum of scientific, medical, and public health disciplines.
Over the years, VAP has contributed to the expansion of Indian research capacity, training and mentoring of scientists, and the fostering of public-private partnerships. This bilateral Indo-U.S. partnership has yielded several success stories, including the research, development, manufacturing, and deployment of India’s first indigenous and low-cost vaccine, ROTAVAC, which prevents infection with the most common strain of rotavirus circulating in India. ROTAVAC is now part of India’s Universal Immunization Program (UIP).
Specific committees under VAP include:
Candidate Vaccine Advisory Committee (CVAC)
Established in 2016, the Candidate Vaccine Advisory Committee (CVAC) involves collaboration between NIAID, DBT, ICMR, and interested private entities for the development and testing of safe and effective vaccines developed in India, the United States, or elsewhere. CVAC provides scientific oversight and guidance to India’s top Biopharma companies in the development of vaccines against a range of infectious diseases, including dengue, chikungunya, respiratory syncytial virus, Zika, influenza, and tuberculosis.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, CVAC has most recently reviewed vaccine development efforts against SARS-CoV-2 and is advising and providing research resources to support further R&D progress in partnership with the government of India.
Flavivirus Steering Group
The Flavivirus Steering Group, created under CVAC in 2019, provides guidance on how epidemiological studies should be conducted in India to assess the burden of flaviviral diseases, such as dengue and chikungunya, and to determine study sites for future candidate vaccine trials.
Under the guidance of this group, a special supplement on ‘Dengue in India’ was published in International Journal of Infectious Diseases (IJID) in May 2019.