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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Indian vaccines’ quick trials: 5 points on why experts sniff petty politics

Unrealistic and unscientific. This is what experts feel about the Indian Council of Medical Research’s claim that it would launch the country’s first indigenous vaccine by August 15, India’s Independence Day.

Just four days after Covaxin, India’s first indigenous vaccine candidate got clearance for human trials to be started this month, ICMR chief Balram Bhargava wrote to 12 institutions taking part in the trials to fast-track the vaccine-making process.

The letter also asked the institutions to collect candidates for human trials by July 7 as the “vaccine was the top-most priority of the government”. Covaxin, which got the nod for human trials on June 29, is being developed by ICMR in collaboration with Hyderabad-based private firm Bharat Biotech.

Is politics having command or science? Let’s find in five points

1. Vaccine by August 15 claim is absurd

Now a medical council chief declaring the launching date of a vaccine within four days of its having cleared the human trials is never heard of anywhere in the world before!

“I don’t think anywhere in the world has anyone ever given a date in advance for the release of a new vaccine before a clinical trial has ever begun. This is not how science works,” Amar Jesani, editor of the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics told Scroll.in.

The declaration by the ICMR chief has not only created a controversy, but many scientists and researchers also find the announcement pretty ridiculous. So much so that even the officials at ICMR attempt to distance themselves from it.

Chairperson of the ethics and advisory committee of the ICMR’s bioethics cell Vasantha Muthuswamy claimed that she had not seen Bhargava’s letter, the Scroll report said. However, she admitted that the timeline set by the ICMR chief was indeed too short. Even if the process is fast-tracked, it will take a minimum of a year’s time to make the vaccine available in the market.

2. Claim differs from science, leans towards publicity

For many, this is plain publicity that India’s ruling BJP-led government is trying to gain by riding on ICMR’s credibility. Does it mean that science giving in to petty politics? Seems yes, as according to a report by The Indian Express, the ICMR’s claim has stirred up doubts that the vaccine may not be safe or effective with enough risks involved.

Another principal investigator from one of the 12 institutes told Scroll.in that, the process of making the vaccine will not be over even in December because a scientific process involves protocols and ICMR chief’s letter was unscientific! He even said even if the country’s Prime Minister intervenes, it won’t make any difference. A huge section of scientists and researchers has slammed Bhargava for resorting to an “unscientific” approach in his letter.

3. Enrolment for human trials by July 7 is impossible

The possibility of having a vaccine by as early as August 15 has been rejected by all science practitioners. Afterall the endeavor of making a vaccine to combat coronavirus is no way comparable to Patanjali’s Coronil initiative. According to an expert from Lucknow’s King George Hospital, even if the human trials are approved by July 7, it would still be difficult to prepare the final results of the trials by August 15. Only after the trials are conducted on a large number of sample, it is deemed safe to make it commercially available.

4. Modi behind politics playing over science?

You don’t have to follow Indian politics closely to know our Prime Minister Narendra Modi loves to make tall claims unilaterally. As a report by The Wire rightly mentioned, in his Independence Day address last year, Modi announced India’s human spacelift mission even before the Indian Space Research Organisation could! For many Modi hasn’t changed his style in this context as well.

We can understand that a politician in India cares more about politics than scientific explanations, but the question is what made the ICMR chief to claim something scientifically impossible and unrealistic? It is not clear yet. Is Modi pushing the ICMR for Atmanirbhar vaccine plan?

5. ICMR is trying to defend its stand

After facing enough flak and backlash from various quarters, ICMR on Saturday tried to defend itself by making a statement.

“The letter by DG-ICMR to investigators of the clinical trial sites was meant to cut unnecessary red tape, without bypassing any necessary process and speed up recruitment of participants,” the statement read, reported NDTV.

Opposition leaders have also swung into their usual role in this scenario. CPM leader Sitaram Yechury alleged that the ICMR was trying to pace up its vaccine-making process so that Modi can announce it on Independence Day. The Congress also said the ICMR was trying to please the PM and help his big Red Fort address on August 15.

Amid all these, the common people are at the receiver’s end, as always.

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