On 3 January 2020, the Drug Controller General of India (DGCI) announced the clearance of two COVID vaccines – Oxford Institute’s Covishield, which is being developed by the Pune-based Serum Institute, and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin – thus providing a go-ahead for the much anticipated COVID vaccination drive to save the lives of millions of Indians in a phased, regulated manner. The Prime Minister hailed this announcement, calling it “A decisive turning point to strengthen a spirited fight.”
A decisive turning point to strengthen a spirited fight!
Congratulations to our hardworking scientists and innovators.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) January 3, 2021
It seems however that any matter of achievement that benefits the nation has to be necessarily opposed by certain political groups, driven by their contempt for the Prime Minister and his government. Over the past few days, a bunch of eminent leaders have made a series of irresponsible statements regarding the vaccine and have even gone on to create unnecessary bad blood on the issue.
Akhilesh Yadav, head of the Samajwadi Party and former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, was the first to fire a salvo, claiming that he will not take ‘BJP’s vaccine’.
“Main toh nahi lagwaunga abhi vaccine. Maine apni baat keh di. Aur woh bhi BJP lagayegi uska bharosa karunga main? Arre, jao bhai. Arre, apni sarkar ayegi, sabko free vaccine lagegi. Hum BJP ka vaccine nahin lagwa sakte (I will not get the vaccine now. I am telling you about myself. Am I going to trust a vaccine given by the BJP? Oh, get lost. When our government comes, everyone will get the vaccine free),” the former Chief Minister said at a press conference in Lucknow as reported in the Indian Express.
हमें वैज्ञानिकों की दक्षता पर पूरा भरोसा है पर भाजपा की ताली-थाली वाली अवैज्ञानिक सोच व भाजपा सरकार की वैक्सीन लगवाने की उस चिकित्सा व्यवस्था पर भरोसा नहीं है, जो कोरोनाकाल में ठप्प-सी पड़ी रही है।
हम भाजपा की राजनीतिक वैक्सीन नहीं लगवाएँगे।
सपा की सरकार वैक्सीन मुफ़्त लगवाएगी। pic.twitter.com/yo328VLXZk
— Akhilesh Yadav (@yadavakhilesh) January 2, 2021
Since then, many more, especially from the Congress, have made strange utterances on the subject. Raising doubts on India’s top scientists and scientific regulators, they raised questions on the entire process, thus trying to create doubts in the minds of people.
Senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor on Sunday said that the emergency approval to Covid-19 vaccine–Covaxin was premature and could be dangerous as it is still under phase 3 trial.
The Covaxin has not yet had Phase 3 trials. Approval was premature and could be dangerous. @drharshvardhan should please clarify. Its use should be avoided till full trials are over. India can start with the AstraZeneca vaccine in the meantime. https://t.co/H7Gis9UTQb
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) January 3, 2021
He was not alone. So called progressive Congressman and former Union Minister Jairam Ramesh also engaged in similar rhetoric.
Bharat Biotech is a first-rate enterprise, but it is puzzling that internationally-accepted protocols relating to phase 3 trials are being modified for Covaxin. Health Minister @drharshvardhan should clarify. pic.twitter.com/5HAWZtmW9s
— Jairam Ramesh (@Jairam_Ramesh) January 3, 2021
Former Union Minister and senior Rajya Sabha MP Anand Sharma also engaged in similar rhetoric. Speaking to the Indian Express, Sharma said that “The government needs to explain. How can you go on the basis of phase 2 data? And there is no peer review either. It has to be peer-reviewed in a scientific journal.”
Sharma also questioned the government’s need to “justify why they are bypassing the mandatory protocols and compromising the safety standards which will put a large number of human lives at risk.”
It took the Minister for Health and Family Welfare, Dr. Harshvardhan, to put to rest all these claims. In a series of tweets, he cleared the air on the protocols followed and how the vaccine works. Dr. Harshvardhan was clearly pushed to the limit by all this unscientific chatter, forcing him to use strong language to reply to these people.
It is rather unfortunate that instead of congratulating India’s scientific community for achieving this breakthrough, we have politics being played over a vaccine that can save millions of lives. One only hopes that the opposition leaders can stop embarrassing themselves and refrain from attacking the good job that has been done.