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What’s the debate over India’s COVID-19 vaccine?


By July, India aims to vaccinate 300 million of its 1.4 billion people. Photo: Geo.tv/ file

  • India’s domestic vaccine made by Bharat Biotech has been surrounded by controversy
  • The vaccine was approved for human trials by the Indian government in June last year
  • When India approved its shot before the completion of final human trials, it fuelled a revolt with many at the frontlines of the pandemic refusing the company’s injection

India has its own vaccine for coronavirus – Covaxin – but majority have shown reluctance in taking the shot.

India’s drug regulatory authority gave the green signal to Bharat Biotech’s COVID-19 vaccine for human trials in June last year, making it the first domestic candidate from the country as the number of COVID-19 cases in India crossed 565,000 at the time.

The Drug Controller General of India had approved the company’s application to conduct a Phase I and II clinical trial of Covaxin, which was developed along with the Indian Council of Medical Research’s National Institute of Virology, the company had said in a statement.

The vaccine was developed and manufactured in Bharat Biotech’s facility at Genome Valley in Hyderabad, India.

Read more: Covaxin, India’s first COVID-19 vaccine candidate, approved for human trial

By July, India aims to vaccinate 300 million of its 1.4 billion people. But with COVID-19 infections already declining, some Indians don’t see the need — and clinics have more doses than recipients.

Why are Indians hesitant to take Covaxin?

Since Bharat Biotech’s vaccine got the green signal, the company has been buffeted by controversies ranging from unrealistic government schedules to sporadic reports of adverse reactions, Bloomberg reported.

When India approved its shot before the completion of final human trials, it fuelled a revolt with many at the frontlines of the pandemic refusing the company’s injection. 

The hasty approval of the vaccine is the main reason for hesitation to take the Covaxin shot.

Read more: India to begin commercial COVID-19 vaccine exports

Experts say India never registered significant resistance to inoculations until now. The stakes are particularly high because the South Asian country is racing to inoculate 1.3 billion people across villages and crowded slums while grappling with the world’s second highest number of infections, the publication reported.

“There are many unanswered questions because of the total opaqueness and lack of accountability,” Dinesh Thakur, a former pharmaceutical executive known for exposing fraud at the Indian drugmaker Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd was quoted as saying. 

Another reason for the controversy is that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has distributed the vaccine with AstraZeneca’s inoculation, which completed final tests. 

One doesn’t even get a choice on which vaccine to pick. It is decided through a luck of the draw and location.

Read more: Modi says India will make more coronavirus vaccines to give to the world

Dayanand Sagar, the Bengaluru-based president of a resident doctors’ body that represents 5,000 medical workers across the state of Karnataka, says health workers should be given a choice.

What does Bharat Biotech have to say?

Both New Delhi and Bharat Biotech have vigorously defended the vaccine’s safety, with health officials taking Covaxin injections on camera. 

In a December interview, Suchitra Ella, the company’s co-founder said they have acted “within the law of the land.” A spokesperson for Bharat Biotech and Indian government officials didn’t respond to Bloomberg’s requests for comment.

Bharat Biotech has promised to provide efficacy data for the vaccine by February.



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