It is no longer a secret that BJP leader Subramanian Swamy is turning into a dissident leader. Although he claims to support the leadership of PM Narendra Modi, he has not kept his unhappiness as his wish to join the union cabinet was not fulfilled. Although he has been targeting only specific ministers of the Modi govt, today he went a step ahead in this regard, when he criticised the move to approve the AstraZeneca-Oxford university vaccine for emergency use in India. And in doing so, he resorted to spreading misinformation about the vaccine.
Allegations by Subramanian Swamy
Reacting to Government of India granting emergency use licence for the Coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca in collaboration with Oxford University, Swamy tweeted that the vaccine has not been cleared by the World Health Organisation (WHO) yet for emergency use, and hence it was incorrect for GOI to do so. He said that Indian people are being made Guinea pigs by approving the vaccine.
When social media users pointed out that the WHO has lost credibility due to its mishandling of the Coronavirus outbreak earlier last year, Swamy alleged that Ratan Tata is involved in the vaccine, accusing him of collaboration with Wuhan University. In a blatant fear-mongering about the vaccine, Subramanian Swamy even compared taking the vaccine with entering a new Gas Chamber.
Swamy also chose to target Dr. Vijay Raghavan, the Principal Adviser on Science in the PMO, alleging that he was Ratan Tata’s “chela” and he was “on the Chinese Wuhan Bat virus project and brought the Chinese to Nagaland to experiment on the Bats without Govt clearance required”. He further claimed that for Aatmanirbhar Bharat, only the vaccine developed by Bharat BioTech is acceptable, and a vaccine from “Bill Gates under a US label” is not acceptable.
Swamy has made several misleading claims while targeting the Modi government over the vaccine.
WHO ‘approval’ not needed to launch vaccines
First, WHO is not a statutory organisation, and its ‘approval’ is not required for deploying a vaccine or medicine in any country. WHO does not ‘certify’ or ‘approve’ vaccines, it only ‘validates’ vaccines. Counties are free to use vaccines not validated by WHO. It is the respective national authorities in each country that approves vaccines, according to regulations of the country.
Not only India, but several countries have started vaccinating people against Coronavirus without any ‘approval’ from WHO on those vaccines. For example, on 31st December 2020, WHO issued its first emergency use validation for COVID-19 vaccine COMIRNATY, developed by Pfizer/BioNTech. But the vaccine was already approved by several countries before that, and is already administered on a large number of people. Almost a month before WHO validation, UK had authorised the use of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, and the first shot was given on 8th December.
Similarly, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued the first emergency use authorization (EUA) for the same vaccine on 11th December, more then three weeks before the WHO validation. The COMIRNATY vaccine received authorisation in the European Union on 21st December, also before WHO validation.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which has been approved by India, has also received emergency use approval from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) of the UK. The approval was granted after rigorous clinical trials and a thorough analysis of the data by experts at the MHRA, which has concluded that the vaccine has met its strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness. The vaccine will be rolled out in the UK on 4th January. Following UK, the EU is also expected to approve the vaccine soon, as it is studying the data related to it.
It is important to note that both the FDA and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) follows a very rigorous process to approve new drugs, and their approval means that the drug is safe for use on humans, with or without WHO validation.
Therefore, the insinuation by Swamy that the vaccine is not safe because it is not approved by WHO is completely baseless, and it will only add to already spreading fearmongering about a much-needed vaccine against a global pandemic.
AstraZeneca vaccine is being made in India
The second claim, that AstraZeneca vaccine is from Bill Gates and it does not reflect Aatmanirbhar Bharat is also untrue. The vaccine is being produced in India by the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer. In fact, SII is one of the success stories of India, which supplies vaccines to dozens of countries across the world.
Coming to the involvement of billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates with the vaccine, it is notable that his Gates Foundation runs vaccination programs in a large number of countries, protecting the lives of millions of people. Gates Foundation is neither making the AstraZeneca vaccine, nor financing its production. Bill Gates only informed that the foundation will share some financial risk the SII will have to face in case the vaccine is not approved.
It is important to note that Serum Institute had started producing the vaccine several moths ago, immediately after it was finalised, and before any trial on it was done. The company had done so to ensure that enough stock is available the moment the vaccine approved, as the manufacturing process takes time. SII has already manufactured more than 50 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines. It had taken a financial risk by doing so, as if the trials had shown that the vaccine is unsafe or ineffective, it would have to throw away the already produced vaccine doses.
Reacting to this situation, Bill Gates had said that the company will not have to take the entire burden if such a situation arises, and Gates Foundation will bear some of the risk. Basically, the Foundation was providing an insurance against the possible failure of the vaccine.
As per this arrangement, Serum has received US$ 300 million at-risk funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Gavi Vaccine Alliance to develop and make two vaccines, the Covishield by AstraZeneca, and the Covovax by US biotech Novavax. If the vaccines are approved, the company will deliver the vaccines to both the foundations, which will distribute them in poor countries. But if the vaccines fail, the company won’t have to return the money.
As the Covishield has been found to be safe and effective, and it will soon get approval from most major countries, it means SII will deliver the vaccine to the Gates Foundation against the funding. It does not mean the vaccine is coming from Bill Gates as Swamy is claiming.
No Chinese scientist came to Nagaland to study bats
The third claim of Subramanian Swamy about Dr. Vijay Raghavan is also baseless and incorrect. His allegations are based on a fake report by The Hindu which had claimed that researchers from the U.S., China and India had conducted a study on bats in Nagaland. The report had claimed that the study was under the scanner because two of the twelve researchers involved belonged to the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s Department of Emerging Infectious Diseases. But the National Centre for Biological Sciences had denied the claim, and had asserted that no researcher from the Wuhan Institue of Virology was directly involved with the study.
The study was conducted by NCBS and the Duke-National University of Singapore Medical School, and the report of the study had credited the researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology as co-authors, because they had they supplied reagants critical to the study to Duke-NUS, as is the standard practice for scientific authorship.
The study was on bat antibodies, and it had nothing to with the Coronavirus as The Hindu had alleged. Hence the allegation by Swamy that Dr. Vijay Raghavan was involved in a Chinese Wuhan Bat virus project and brought the Chinese to Nagaland to experiment on bats without require govt clearance is completely false. No Chinese scientist visited Nagaland for the study on bats, they only supplied a critical component for the study.