Covid Vaccine – Is It India's Voldemort?

Covid Vaccine – Is It India's Voldemort?

While governments acted out of necessity to address the urgent health crisis, the focus on vaccine deployment must not overshadow the plight of individuals suffering from various side-effects

Srinath SridharanUpdated: Monday, May 06, 2024, 11:04 PM IST
article-image
Representative Image | File

In one of the unprecedented pandemics the world saw — Covid-19 — there was no playbook for governments to deal with it. So nations around the world, including India, attempted various measures, some scientific and some belief-based, with differing rates of success and failures. But then one of the staunch lesson in public health is to research and discuss, with rigour and transparency, on what went wrong and what failed. That’s where lessons come up for bettering the systems.

Despite anecdotal evidence suggesting that many of us have witnessed family and friends experiencing adverse effects from vaccines, there persists a reluctance to conduct formal and inquiry-based research into these occurrences. But let us look at the pharma sector, a supposed ethical sector. After all, one would assume that it would defend what could be their biggest cash crop #vaccines.

“While it is proven that Covishield (and similar vaccines) can cause blood clots, based on available data, research and assessment by the regulatory authorities, the benefit of the vaccine outweighs the risk associated with its use”, an opinion piece in this newspaper said on May 4.

Indeed, while each vial of vaccine undoubtedly saves countless lives, it may also bear the burden of families mourning lost loved ones or individuals grappling with vaccine-related health issues. Consequently, individuals impacted by various medical conditions resulting from vaccination are left without avenues for redress, while the pharmaceutical sector expects unwavering gratitude from the public. We simply have to stop brushing aside these human injuries or loss as “destiny”.

Without valuing every life and limb, individuals risk being reduced to mere statistics by an industry that purports to uphold ethical standards. The attitude of “these side-effects are possible, but be grateful” fails to acknowledge the broader societal responsibility of the pharmaceutical sector. Such disregard for the profound impact of adverse effects undermines the fundamental obligation of the pharmaceutical industry to prioritise public health and safety. But then that’s the role of regulatory systems to reinforce.

In the midst of the pandemic, the prevailing sentiment of overwhelming gratitude towards vaccines probably did inadvertently overshadow the need for conducting a fair and comprehensive assessment of potential side-effects. It is convenient to attribute medical conditions solely to familial medical history and genetic predispositions, while disregarding the potential impact of vaccinations. Recognising and conducting comprehensive investigations into potential side-effects is not an indictment of vaccines but rather a critical component of safeguarding public health and safety. However, initiating this essential undertaking poses the question: where does one begin?

In a system where governments have granted numerous waivers to vaccine companies, rendering them immune from accountability, individuals experiencing side-effects are left without legal recourse. Class action lawsuits, a potential avenue for seeking justice, are prohibitively lengthy and costly. This imbalance places consumers at a significant disadvantage, with the burden of proof falling disproportionately on them. Moreover, there exists a pervasive distrust among consumers towards official research claims which are often perceived as biased in favour of the pharma industry or governmental decisions.

During the pandemic, governments implemented measures such as restricting access to public areas or travel for non-vaccinated citizens, raising concerns about potential breaches of basic citizen rights. Could these actions be perceived as exerting tacit pressure on individuals to get vaccinated, even for those who remain unconvinced by the claims surrounding vaccines? This raises important questions about the balance between public health and individual freedoms. In the larger context, there is nothing called absolute freedom.

While governments acted out of necessity to address the urgent health crisis, the focus on vaccine deployment must not overshadow the plight of individuals suffering from various side-effects. While holding governments responsible may be challenging, concerns remain regarding the accountability of vaccine manufacturers and distributors, entities with extensive decades of clinical experience and obligations to ensure product safety. It's crucial to remember that this discourse isn't election-related; rather, it focuses on fostering consumer trust in the pharmaceutical sector and the regulatory oversight it operates under.

A significant source of distrust arises from the perception that India has not conducted sufficient in-depth research into vaccines and their side-effects. “Vaccines” have become akin to the modern-day Voldemort, the one who cannot be named without evoking fear and uncertainty.

However, contrastingly, in the UK, AstraZeneca has acknowledged potential rare side-effects of its Covid-19 vaccine, developed in collaboration with researchers from Oxford University, including blood clotting and reduced platelet count post immunisation. In India, where the vaccine is marketed as Covishield and produced by the Pune-based Serum Institute, an estimated 1.75 billion doses have been administered. The emergency approval of Covishield in early 2021, along with the waiver of traditional vaccine trial protocols, was aimed to expedite vaccine delivery during the pandemic. Yet, there remains uncertainty about whether comprehensive information regarding these potential side-effects will be made available to the public.

This revelation comes amidst legal proceedings in the UK, with the company disclosing the side-effect, known as Thrombosis with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome (TTS), in response to a lawsuit alleging severe harm and fatalities stemming from the vaccine. Despite these developments, within matter of few days, numerous Indian medical experts and pharma experts have provided reassurances and “their confirmations” that the Covid vaccine is safe. Fair enough. But what about those who got impacted after receiving the vaccine, but have no trusted system to honestly test and evidence that vaccine did affect them?

A petition has been lodged with the Supreme Court, urging the establishment of an expert medical panel to investigate potential risk factors linked to AstraZeneca's Covishield vaccine. While the court’s decision is awaited, the question arises: can such an initiative foster trust in the system for impartial research into vaccine side-effects? This consideration is crucial, particularly given the potential political and pharmaceutical sector implications at stake. The conclusion of the pandemic doesn’t preclude a retrospective examination of the wide-ranging effects of vaccines. It’s essential to identify errors and missteps to guide future actions. This requires genuine introspection and impartial evaluation, rather than simply brushing aside concerns and assuming all is well.

Many legal experts in India maintain that pursuing a class-action lawsuit remains a viable avenue. However, one must consider whether every affected individual can bear the financial burden and endure the lengthy legal proceedings, media scrutiny, and potential pressure to abandon their quest for understanding the impact of vaccines on their bodies.

Within our own circles of family and friends, we have witnessed seemingly healthy individuals experiencing severe health crises or even succumbing to sudden, unexplained deaths, often attributed to fate or the uncertainties surrounding Covid-19. Such incidents naturally lead to speculation about a potential connection to vaccines. The implications of this speculation are profound. If these incidents are indeed vaccine-related, who bears the responsibility? Moreover, how can we trust the objectivity of those tasked with investigating these connections?

In medico-legal contexts, adverse events are frequently brushed aside as isolated occurrences. The prospect of pursuing a medico-legal case may seem daunting, especially for families already burdened by the consequences of vaccine-related adverse events. Despite the formidable financial resources, lobbying capacity and legal expertise available to the pharmaceutical industry, it is essential that every individual impacted by vaccine-related issues has their concerns heard and addressed with empathy and fairness. But that’s not in any prescription.

Families grappling with potential vaccine-related fatalities deserve answers and support, as do those contending with the enduring consequences of vaccine-related health issues. Sadly, the burden of proof seems to weigh heavily on individuals, rather than institutions. The true test of institutional governance and independence of our pillars of democracy lies in ensuring that these issues are given due attention and resolution.

Dr Srinath Sridharan is a policy researcher and corporate adviser. https://srinath.blog X: @ssmumbai

RECENT STORIES

Editorial: India’s Train System Off Track, But Government Is On Its Own Trip

Editorial: India’s Train System Off Track, But Government Is On Its Own Trip

Getting A Grip On Inflation Dynamics

Getting A Grip On Inflation Dynamics

Fearless Talk: No More Gimmicks Please, Govt Must Provide Employment For Youth

Fearless Talk: No More Gimmicks Please, Govt Must Provide Employment For Youth

Editorial: A Divisive And Damaging Decision

Editorial: A Divisive And Damaging Decision

Editorial: Better, Scrap The Reservation Bill

Editorial: Better, Scrap The Reservation Bill