'Calf serum is not an ingredient...': Centre issues clarification amid debate over contents of Covaxin doses

Amid an ongoing debate about the ingredients of Bharat Biotech and ICMR's homegrown COVID-19 vaccine, the Centre on Wednesday issued a clarification of sorts. Newborn calf serum, the Health Ministry said, was not an ingredient of the final vaccine product. This does not however mean that it is not used in the creation of the vaccine.

Over the last few days, there have been multiple rumours doing the round, with hundreds taking to social media platforms conteding that the jabs used fetal bovine serum, aborted foetal tissue and the like. And while there is a kernel of truth to the rumours, matters have been twisted into a rather problematic shape.

"Newborn Calf Serum (NCS) is used only for preparation/ growth of vero cells. Different kinds of bovine and other animal serum are standard enrichment ingredient used globally for vero cell growth. Vero cells are used to establish cell lives which help in production of vaccines. This technique has been used for decades in Polio, Rabies, and Influenza vaccines," the Health Ministry explained in a press note.

Note that newborn calf serum is not the same as fetal bovine serum. The latter is harvested from bovine fetuses taken from pregnant cows during slaughter. NCS is typically collected from calves that are less than 10 days old.

The Centre also pointed out that while NCS was used for vero cells, it had no place in the final product. "The vero cells are completely destroyed in the process of viral growth. Thereafter this grown virus is also killed (inactivated) and purified. This killed virus is then used to make the final vaccine, and in the final vaccine formulation no calf serum is used," it said.

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