In the global fight against the Coronavirus pandemic, India has emerged as a true world leader. At the time of crisis, India is successfully running the largest vaccination drive in the world and also exporting vaccine doses to other countries. However, habitual sceptics and anti-India propagandists have been peddling misleading narratives since the beginning to undermine the country’s majestic achievement.
On Tuesday, Congress troll and conspiracy theorist Saket Gokhale resorted to scaremongering against the Coronavirus vaccination programme in India. In a tweet, he claimed, “The truth behind Modi’s so-called international vaccine diplomacy. India has been “gifting” & sending Covid-19 vaccines to other countries & touting it as a form of help & benevolence. But here’s the catch: the vaccines being sent are those that expire in April.”
The truth behind Modi’s so-called “international vaccine diplomacy”:— Saket Gokhale (@SaketGokhale) February 9, 2021
India has been “gifting” & sending Covid-19 vaccines to other countries & touting it as a form of help & benevolence.
But here’s the catch: the vaccines being sent are those that expire in April.
Furthermore, Gokhale alleged that India is lagging behind its vaccination drive. “…A lot many of the vaccine doses manufactured as long ago as Oct 2020 are nearing their expiry date. Modi is sending these vaccines to other countries purely because India has no use for them. And they got no use either,” he added.
The Congress troll’s tweet further provoked his followers to not only question the ‘safety’ of the vaccines but wonder how the production of these vaccines began in October itself.
As India lags behind in its vaccination program, a lot many of the vaccine doses manufactured as long ago as Oct 2020 are nearing their expiry date.— Saket Gokhale (@SaketGokhale) February 9, 2021
Modi is sending these vaccines to other countries purely because India has no use for them.
And they got no use either.
Production of vaccines began 8 months prior to its approval
It must be mentioned that the Serum Institute of India (SII), which is supplying Covishield vaccine(developed by Oxford-Astrazeneca) to the Indian government, commenced the production of the vaccine 8 months before its efficacy was established. In October last year, SII received permission from the government to pre-produce and stockpile vaccine doses.
The mass production in advance paid off as the vaccine got approved by the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) on January 3. In a tweet on the same day, CEO Adar Poonawalla informed, “Happy new year, everyone! All the risks Serum Institute of India took with stockpiling the vaccine, have finally paid off. COVISHIELD, India’s first COVID-19 vaccine is approved, safe, effective and ready to roll-out in the coming weeks.”
Happy new year, everyone! All the risks @SerumInstIndia took with stockpiling the vaccine, have finally paid off. COVISHIELD, India’s first COVID-19 vaccine is approved, safe, effective and ready to roll-out in the coming weeks. pic.twitter.com/TcKh4bZIKK— Adar Poonawalla (@adarpoonawalla) January 3, 2021
Within just 9 days, the first consignment of Covishield (Oxford-AstraZeneca) vaccines arrived in the National Capital from SII in Pune. And the immunisation programme kickstarted from January 16 this year. Had it not been for this early production of 50 million doses, India’s vaccination drive could have delayed by several months. As such, Saket Gokhale’s assertion that the vaccines were produced in October last year should therefore come as no surprise.
Is April the expiry date of Covishield vaccines?
Another point raised by the Congress troll was the expiry date of April. Gokhale had suggested that the vaccines would be useless after April. Mia Mala, who is associated with the Bhekisisa Health Journalism Centre, informed that SII had only 6 months worth of data to work with and as the expiry date specified the month of April. It can now be extended, given that the data is now available for more than 6 months.
“We have data for 6 months, but many vaccines last for longer, they stay stable for a year. But because the Covid vaccines are so new, we don’t have data for 12 months because they haven’t existed for 12 months. So even though it may say expiry date of April, that April expiry date could be postponed to May because we now have data that this vaccine says stable for longer than 6 months,” Mia remarked. Her comments came at the backdrop of South Africa’s decision to put the Covisheild vaccines on hold.
The South African Health Ministry officials have now reached out to SII to inquire if expiry dates could be extended. Assuming that the vaccines expire in April as Gokhale suggested, SII has the capability to produce millions of new vaccine doses. Dr Suresh Jadhav, Executive Director (SII) had earlier said, “Serum has a stock of another 50-60 million doses. It is also producing at a monthly average of 50-60 million which will go up to 100 million a month by April.”
Vaccination drive in India as compared to other countries
Ministry of Health (MoH) Secretary Rajesh Bhushan informed on Tuesday that 63,10,194 (6.3 million) vaccines have been administered till date since the programme began on January 16. Just on Monday, around 2,23,298 health workers were vaccinated. Bhushan said, “The country’s COVID-19 case fatality rate is amongst the lowest in the world at 1.43% while the global average stands at 2.18%…97% people satisfied with overall vaccination experience — as per the feedback received by the Health Ministry.”
Although the vaccination programme began late in the country as compared to developed nations such as the United Kingdom and the United States, India has been faring well in the list. The US and the UK have administered 41 and 12 million vaccine doses respectively while Brazil has vaccinated 3.6 million people. India has also successfully lept forward on the diplomatic front by supplying vaccine doses to Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Mauritius, Seychelles, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Brazil, Morocco and other countries.