Today, the ICMR announced that the indigenous Bharat Biotech-developed Covaxin neutralizes multiple variants of SARS-CoV-2 including the double mutant strain, according to a study. ICMR shared the update through a tweet which also entails an infographic detailing the results of the study.
ICMR study shows #COVAXIN neutralises against multiple variants of SARS-CoV-2 and effectively neutralises the double mutant strain as well. @MoHFW_INDIA @DeptHealthRes #IndiaFightsCOVID19 #LargestVaccineDrive pic.twitter.com/syv5T8eHuR— ICMR (@ICMRDELHI) April 21, 2021
ICMR also announced that the infection rate among those who have taken two doses of Covaxin is 0.04%, while the rate after two doses of Covishield is 0.03%, which means that both vaccines being administered in India are highly effective.
These results announced by the ICMR will hopefully put to rest the multitude of doubts and vaccine hesitancy manufactured by political actors and figures in the media for months. For many months, these doomsday predictors fueled vaccine hesitancy by making all kinds of baseless claims about Covaxin. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, here is a brief snapshot of how these doomsday prophets were utterly proven wrong.
The Political Opposition
Back in January 2021, after the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) approved the emergency use of COVID-19 vaccines Bharat Biotech’s vaccine Covaxin and SII’s ‘Covishield’, opposition leaders had indulged in peddling propaganda by targeting the government over the efficacy and safety of the vaccines and resorting to fear-mongering ahead of the release of the cure for the pandemic.
It is an old saying that Opposition is just Government-in-waiting, however many opposition figures took a narrow view when it came to indigenous vaccines and did not think of the national interest. Rather than encouraging people to be immunized, many opposition leaders played politics over life-saving vaccines.
In January 2021, the Chhattisgarh government of Bhupesh Baghel came out against Covaxin. In February, Chattisgarh’s Health Minister TS Singh Deo aggravated the situation by writing a letter to Union Health Minister Dr. Harshavardhan to halt the supply of COVAXIN into Chhattisgarh, raising unfounded doubts about the made in India vaccine.
▪️The absence of expiration date on the vials of the vaccine.— TS Singh Deo (@TS_SinghDeo) February 11, 2021
I have requested him to halt the supply of COVAXIN to Chhattisgarh until these issues are addressed to the satisfaction of our Health Department to avoid the wastage of the early expiration doses of the drug. (2/2)
Shashi Tharoor, thought of as one of Congress’ “more educated” leaders, also joined the fear-mongering brigade against COVAXIN in January, falsely labelling the government’s approval as “premature” and “dangerous”. In hindsight, we can confidently declare that Shashi didn’t know what he was talking about. Also, the vaccine was undergoing Phase-3 trials at the time, so the “not yet had Phase 3 trials” part was just straight up false.
Instead of encouraging people to get vaccinated to protect themselves from the pandemic, the Thiruvananthapuram MP was not only discrediting the scientists and other experts who have put all their efforts to develop the vaccine but also pushing the innocent people away from the cure.
Senior Congress leader Rashid Alvi did not shy away from making bizarre and absurd claims about COVAXIN, stating that just like BJP and PM Modi were using agencies including CBI, Income Tax Department and ED against opposition leaders, they might use the vaccine to target the opposition leaders.
He said that the vaccine will be misused by the BJP against political adversaries and justified the calls for the boycott of vaccination drive. He also supported Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav’s insane claim that indigenous vaccines like COVAXIN are BJP’s vaccines.
Former Union Minister and Congress MP Jairam Ramesh also pushed for uncertainity and doubt in the case of COVAXIN, directly calling upon Union Minister Dr. Harshavardhan to clarify. Cleary, Mr. Ramesh did not consider Bharat Biotech to be “first rate”, because if he did, he would not raise fears and doubts about COVAXIN in the first place.
Deputy leader of the Congress in the Rajya Sabha Anand Sharma also raised aspersions on the efficacy of Bharat Biotech’s COVID-19 vaccine by alleging that the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) “dispensed” with mandatory protocols and verification of data by granting COVAXIN its approval.
Mr. Sharma, who heads the Parliamentary Panel on Home Affairs that extensively dealt with the issue, said no country had dispensed with mandatory Phase-3 trials and verification of data, and the issue of granting authorization needs to be taken carefully.
In one of the most despicable comments politicizing vaccines, SP President Akhilesh Yadav said that he doesn’t trust “BJP’s vaccines” and will wait for his government to form. This comment earned him righteous condemnation from all across the political spectrum, resulting in him doing a U-Turn just a day later.
RJD leader Tej Pratap Yadav, son of Fodder scam convict Lalu Prasad Yadav, also pushed vaccine hesitancy in January. In a statement, he said, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi should take the first shot of Covid-19 vaccine, then, we will also take it,” implying that there was something inherently dangerous about the vaccine. However, PM Modi did take the vaccine immediately after he became eligible for it as per the rules set by his govt.
The Media Narrative
Whilst it is outrageous of our politicians to lie and mislead people about something even as vital and important as vaccines, it does not come as a surprise. The real scandal, however, is our media dutifully going along with vaccine sceptic narratives. A repeat offender of this vaccine skepticism was Shekhar Gupta’s The Print, with it pushing many articles sowing doubts about the efficacy of indigenous vaccines.
Nitin Pai, who regularly gets to opine in Shekhar Gupta’s publication, termed DCGI’s approval of Covaxin “a political jumla” which reinforces Modi’s “Atmanirbhar Bharat”. In the headline itself, The Print puts the word approval in quotation marks, implying that somehow Covaxin’s approval was not based on science. Hopefully, this is not the level of discourse being offered at Pai’s Takshashila Institution, otherwise, a lot of people should ask for their money back.
Sandhya Ramesh, ironically The Print’s Science reporter, shared an article written by a colleague in The Print, literally characterizing Covaxin as “India’s most controversial Covid vaccine”. For a few clicks and hits, The Print has no qualms in labelling life-saving vaccines as “controversial”, encouraging vaccine hesitancy.
Saket Gokhale, a person who likes to spam frivolous RTIs and considers himself an activist, could not resist from being away from peddling lies and misinformation. Gokhale, whose understanding of science is equivalent to the Congress party’s perceived integrity, found illogical ways to discredit the ingeniously produced vaccine. He attributed false statements to DCGI VG Somani to attack the Made in India vaccines and in the process exposed himself as a spectacular fool with zero understanding of the vaccine and its trial results.
India is going through a difficult time, as many different parts of the country are witnessing a surge in Coronavirus cases. In this situation, there is nothing more important than to promote immunization and provide vaccines to every eligible citizen possible. However, such efforts will not be as effective if the political opposition and the media class push vaccine hesitancy, just for the sake of undermining PM Modi.
Therefore, when it comes to vaccines, prudent statements based on facts are the only way to go. Not half-guesses with dubious sources backing it up.