It has been nearly a year since India recorded its first COVID-19 case, and it would seem that the end has drawn nearer. With two vaccines being approved for emergency use recently - Covishield and Covaxin - many have lauded India's efforts to combat COVID-19. At the same time, controversy has erupted over the fact that one of the approved vaccines is yet to finish its trials.
While the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine that is being manufactured in India by the Serum Institute has shown an average effectiveness of 70%, Bharat Biotech's Covaxin is a few steps behind - with third phase trial data yet to be made public. And while the Union Health Minister had other officials have emphasised that the two approvals are slightly different, not many are convinced.
For the uninitated, Covaxin is India's first indigenous COVID-19 vaccine and has been developed in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the National Institute of Virology.
The concern stems from the fact that Covaxin has not yet joined the ranks of established COVID-19 vaccines, with trials slated to continue even as people are administered the dose. Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan clarified on Sunday night that Covaxin was intended to act as a backup vaccine of sorts at present. As he put it, "all COVAXIN recipients to be tracked, monitored as if they’re in trial". And while this has assuaged some, Twitter chatter indicates that others are now incensed at being used as "guinea pigs".
But the concerned voices don't just come from Opposition politicians in India. Award-winning clinician and infectious diseases expert Dr Faheem Younus on Monday struck a cautionary note, stating that "vaccine nationalism" was not a good idea. The COVID-19 warrior who leads the University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health’s quality and safety programs, took to Twitter opining that this was a risky start to the immunisation process.
"India: Vaccines are about safety, efficacy, and trust. It’s a risky strategy to start vaccinating a population without scientifically published phase 3 trials showing safety and high efficacy. True for any country. Any vaccine. Vaccine Nationalism is dangerous," he tweeted.