India is currently grappling with the second wave of the coronavirus outbreak. While the overall trends suggest that the peak is behind us and India is on its path to recovery, the central and the state governments are nevertheless continuing to augment their capacities in terms of increasing beds, oxygen supply and key antiviral drugs, in a bid to prepare for the subsequent bouts of the coronavirus outbreak.
One of the key measures taken by the governments now is aggressively carrying out vaccination drives. The central government has put curbs on the exports of the COVID-19 vaccines and allowed states to procure vaccines directly from the makers.
Although India has been the fastest country in the world to jab 17 crore people and its vaccination rate is fairly impressive, it was initially marred with low turnouts, as people suspicious of the ill effects refrained from getting jabbed. Observers claim that the initial vaccine hesitancy among Indians, along with the general complacency, may have played a huge factor in the spread of the ferocious second wave of the coronavirus outbreak.
India started its ambitious vaccination drive in a phased manner starting 16 January 2021. However, the vaccine hesitancy among people was then aggravated by several politicians and media outlets, particularly left-leaning portals, who started casting aspersions on the efficacy and safety of India’s COVID-19 vaccines.
Earlier this year, several left-leaning media websites attempted to throw a spanner in the works by building a narrative against India’s vaccination drive. The run up to the second wave of the coronavirus outbreak was replete with incidents when the left-leaning portals left no stone unturned to sabotage India’s vaccination programme. From questioning the legitimacy of the trial data released by the vaccine companies to raising unfounded fears about the approvals granted for the use of vaccines, the leftist portals published umpteen articles and employed every trick in their playbook to derail India’s inoculation campaign.
Here are 12 such instances that exhibit how the left-leaning online portals had indulged in promoting vaccine hesitancy in the months leading to the second wave of the coronavirus outbreak in India:-
1. The Print casts aspersions on the approval process for Covishield and Covaxin
In January 2021, when the Drugs Controller General of India approved the emergency use of indigenously made COVID-19 vaccines—Covishield and Covaxin, the Print published an article raising questions on the regulatory system of India that approved the vaccines. It stated that regulatory pitfalls of the Indian system helped Covishield and Covaxin get rapid approval, insinuating that the vaccines were not safe enough to be passed by the regulatory body.
2. Article in The Print calls covaxin’s approval a ‘political jumla’
In another article published on the Print, the author of the article likened the DCGI’s approval of Bharat Biotech’s vaccine Covaxin to a ‘political jumla’. Not only did the article raised doubts over the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, it also said that Covaxin was approved for the express purpose of reinforcing PM Modi’s push for ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’—a clarion call PM Modi had given in the wake of disruption caused by the lockdowns during the coronavirus crisis in 2020.
3. The print propagates apprehensions about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines
At the time when India was gearing up to launch world’s largest vaccination drive, the Print published another article that served to perpetuate vaccine hesitancy. Titled as “Lack of data, doubts over trials and vaccine quality—India’s dangerous recovery cocktail”, the article painted a grim picture about India’s vaccination drive. It promoted skepticism around the clinical trials, efficacy and quality of the vaccines approved by the Indian Drugs Controller.
4. Even doctors hesitant to take Covaxin: The Print
In another article published on The Print, the headlines insinuated that even doctors were having doubts over the efficacy of Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin. It said that hesitancy continues over Covaxin but doctors are still taking the shots because ‘vaccination is the only way out’. It is interesting to note that in the body of the article, The Print mentions that many doctors dismissed the suspicions around Covaxin’s efficacy, but it was not mentioned in the headlines.
5. The Print questions approval granted to Covaxin by the regulatory committee
In the article titled ‘This is how Bharat Biotech changed expert panel’s mind on Covaxin in a day and got approval’, The Print attempted to allude that the Bharat Biotech’s vaccine was given a hasty approval. It asserted that a day before Covaxin was granted approval for the emergency use of the vaccine, the regulatory committee was not convinced about approving the vaccine.
The article mentions that the approval was granted by the committee only after Bharat Biotech presented the updated data, justification and requested for consideration of their proposal in the wake of the incidence of new mutated coronavirus infection. However, the headline was conveniently twisted to give an impression that the approval of Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin was suspicious.
6. The Wire publishes article saying approval of two vaccines tarnished Indian Science
Leftist propaganda site The Wire too published articles that played a part in promoting vaccine hesitancy. Casting doubts over which the vaccines were approved, and by extension questioning the efficacy of the vaccines, The Wire published an article whose headline read: “India has gained two vaccines but its regulators have tarnished Indian Science”.
The article was a subtle attempt to question the efficacy of vaccines by doubting the methodology used by the regulatory body to grant the approval. The article argued that none of the two—Covishield and Covaxin—have presented the requisite data needed for approval and yet they were permitted for emergency usage by the Drugs Controller General of India.
7. Article published in The Wire fuels skepticism about the Covaxin’s trial data
After outraging over lack of clinical data, when the information was finally provided by the vaccine manufacturers, The Wire proceeded to sow distrust about the data. In an article it said that Covaxin trial’s info sheet did not mention two rare but known risks. This was yet another attempt by the Wire to discredit the indigenously made vaccine and perpetuate vaccine hesitancy among people.
8. The Wire likens India with China to undermine the indigenously vaccines
In questioning the efficacy of the vaccines approved by India, The Wire went a step further from other left portals and compared India’s transparent vaccine approvals with the opaque Chinese system. The article titled ‘Does India Want To Go China’s Way – Where Many Vaccines Exist, but Trust Doesn’t?’ continued fear-mongering about the safety and the efficacy of India’s vaccines, raising questions over their approvals and drawing a parallel with the Chinese system, where doubts over the vaccines and their approvals run abound.
9. Leftist rag The Wire calls into question the data of India’s COVID vaccines
The Wire’s scare-mongering over the efficacy of the vaccines ran for weeks after their approval, until the second wave of the pandemic hit India and the Wire trained its guns to attack the government over vaccine production. The vaccines were approved in the first week of January 2021. But even in mid-February, The Wire was persisting with its propaganda against the ‘Made-In India’ vaccines. In an article published on February 19, the Wire stated that efficacy data was still lacking for India’s COVID vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 variants.
10. The Wire casts doubts over India’s vaccination drive
The Wire also raised doubts over India’s vaccination drive. In an article titled ‘Despite mounting disputes, Government presses ahead with vaccine roll out’, the Wire essentially contended that there were no consensus on the vaccination drive and yet the government persisted with it. In essence, the Wire insinuated that the vaccination drive should have been delayed till the time all the disputes are ironed out. Ironically, the same portal is now questioning the Indian government on why it did not expedite the vaccination programme.
11. Scroll whips up fear about India’s decision to approve covid-19 vaccines
Another left leaning portal Scroll.in contributed immensely in promoting and spreading vaccine hesitancy. Days after India approved the emergency use of two indigenously made coronavirus vaccine, the Scroll published an article to undermine India’s vaccination drive, stating that India is playing with fire, in a rush to declare ‘Atmanirbhar vaccine’.
The article painted a dystopian picture, alleging that the “opaque approval process” of the vaccine and India’s rush to get its population vaccinated against COVID-19 could result in unintended consequences. What such articles do is that they stoke feelings of vaccine hesitancy by creating fear in the minds of readers, who then propagate falsehoods about the vaccines to others and amplify the skepticism. It fuels apprehensions among people that the vaccines may have been approved through a murky process and would possibly cause harmful effects.
12. Scroll discredits Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, raises question over its usage despite the availability of cheaper option
In another instance, an article published a day before India began its vaccination drive argued that India should not have bought an “untested vaccine” when a cheaper option with better safety data is available. This was in reference to Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, which the article claimed was not adequately tested and was more expensive than its counterpart Covishield, which is manufactured by the Serum Institute of India.
After creating fear psychosis against vaccines, leftist portals pivot to attack the government on the speed of vaccination drive
As the second wave of the coronavirus outbreak hit India, these very portals unabashedly made an about-face, holding forth the government on not accelerating the vaccine production enough to rapidly inoculate India’s vast population. In the months leading to the second wave of the coronavirus outbreak, these portals went into overdrive to undermine India’s vaccination drive. They raised doubts over the efficacy of the vaccines, fuelled misgivings about the vaccine trials, stoked fears about the unfounded side-effects of taking the vaccines.
When the resurgent wave of the coronavirus reared its ugly head in late March 2021, they pivoted from spreading suspicions about the vaccines to attacking the central government for not swiftly scaling up the vaccine production. The modus operandi is pretty straight forward—keep attacking the central government even if that means presiding over many contradictions and glaring hypocrisies. As long as their express purpose of portraying negativity against the Modi government is served, they don’t mind imperilling the lives of people through spreading vaccine hesitancy and then using their deaths to rail against the government.