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Vaccine nationalism? Covaxin isn't safe either, perhaps it's worse: Experts

By Rajiv Shah 
I was a little awestruck: The news had already spread that Astrazeneca – whose Indian variant Covishield was delivered to nearly 80% of Indian vaccine recipients during the Covid-19 era – has been withdrawn by the manufacturers following the admission by its UK pharma giant that its Covid-19 vector-based vaccine in “rare” instances cause TTS, or “thrombocytopenia thrombosis syndrome”, which lead to the blood to clump and form clots. The vaccine reportedly led to at least 81 deaths in the UK.
As I was one of its crores of Indian recipients – I went so far as to ensure from the nurse at the local urban health centre that it was Covishield, and not the indigenously manufactured Covaxin – my worry was surely natural.
Dr Amitav Banerjee, a renowned Indian epidemiologist, who has served in the armed forces for over two decades and was recently featured on Stanford University’s list of the world’s top 2% scientists, forwarded to me his latest article on the whole controversy. Titled “A To Z Of The AZ-Oxford Doomed Project”, the powerful commentary states that India, sadly, succumbed to the promotion of the vaccine. It says:
“India is a country with a large young population. Around three-fourths (75%) of its population is below 40 years of age. A paper in the Journal of Medical Ethics says administering Covid-19 vaccines to the young is not ethical as it may result in a net harm.
“In a country of over 140 crore people with around 75% of the population below 40 years as a ballpark estimate, we have administered the Covishield vaccine to around 80 crore young Indians who were at least risk from Covid-19 and at higher risk of adverse events.
“Early into the coronavirus pandemic, it was established that the infection-fatality rate of the virus was in the range of 0.00% to 0.05% among people below 70 years, tending towards zero among the youth. Moreover, by the time vaccines were rolled out among the young, serosurveys showed that over 80% of the young had already recovered from natural infection, adding to their robust immunity.
“The great Indian irony is that our policymakers got it right early on. Dr. NK Arora, head of India’s NTAGI (National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation), wrote an opinion piece on April 12, 2021 in the Times of India, titled, ‘Opening up vaccines for younger adults (18 to 45 years) right now will be a gamble with lives’.
“However, India’s policymakers lost the way as political and commercial pressures piled up.”
This made me ask him the pointed question: Is what has been revealed about Covishield also true of the indigenous Covaxin? His reply was short but precise: “Not sure. Less used and less studied, but what is known is not very reassuring.” I further asked him whether the movie “Vaccine War”, about which he had written in Counterview, was about Covaxin, and he replied: “Yes, it is about Covaxin.”
Dr Banerjee was quick to forward me with the May 10, 2024 newsletter of the Universal Health Organisation (UHO), whose declared aim is to “bring the updates on the science, battered and bruised during the pandemic, legal updates and impact of activism for a just society, across the world.” While the newsletter is all about Astrazeneca of Covishield, a small section, “Is Covaxin safer than Covishield?”, puts question mark over Bharat Biotech, the indigenous vaccine manufacturers.
Following the Covishield “expose”, Bharat Biotech had already come up a statement claiming that it had taken all the safety measures required for the development of its Covid-19 vaccine. It said, “Covaxin was developed with a single-minded focus on safety first, followed by efficacy… It was the only Covid-19 vaccine in the government's immunisation programme to have conducted efficacy trials in India. It was evaluated in more than 27,000 subjects as part of its licensure process."
“Grabbing” the opportunity to promote Covaxin which contributed less than 20% to the Indian mass vaccination programme, it added, all studies and 'safety follow-up activities' indicated that Covaxin was not associated with “incidents of blood clots, thrombocytopenia, TTS, VITT, pericarditis, myocarditis and more".
The UHO newsletter disputes such claim and states: 
“A quick review of the published literature by UHO members is not reassuring and raises concerns about the safety of this (Covaxin) vaccine as well. A peer reviewed paper published in Indian Heart Journal reported that both Covishield and Covaxin were associated with serious thromboembolic (clotting) events.
“Besides there are a number of scattered reports of instances of serious side effects from Covaxin ranging from myocarditis (inflammation of heart muscle), deep vein thrombosis affecting the brain to central retinal artery occlusion (leading to blindness), aggravation of psoriasis, among others.”

While I am no expert of the subject, the fact is, the Indian Heart Journal paper strongly suggests that Covaxin is even more dangerous than Covishield. Let me quote from it, “There were higher rates of DVT/PE after Covaxin administration (4/13, 31%) compared to Covishield (2/35, 5%, p¼0.04).” The “small study” has been interpreted to point out that it “showed there were higher rates of DVT/PE (both clotting issues) after Covaxin administration compared to Covishield.”
There were higher rates of DVT/PE after Covaxin administration (4/13, 31%) compared to Covishield (2/35, 5%, p¼0.04)
This comes amidst strong efforts to link Covaxin with the new variety of nationalism sought to be promoted after Narendra Modi came to power in 2014. The maker of hyper-nationalistic films with clear anti-minority bias, Vivek Agnihotri, “Kashmir Files” and “Kerala Story”, recently released “Vaccine War” in order to justify and propagate the great work done by coming up with the indigenous Covid-19 vaccine.
While I have not seen the film, Counterview published three articles which partially or fully review “Vaccine War”. One of them is by Dr Banerjee, who says, with this film, “science seems to be venturing into the glamorous Bollywood arena! Serious science can take a backseat! Glamour and glitz can serve as the fast food for the public imagination.”
Another by Bhaskaran Raman, who is Professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, insists, “The movie is problematic right in its name. A person gets to be called a doctor only after successfully passing her medical degree. Likewise, a product gets to be called as a vaccine only after successful completion of trials.”
“However”, Raman continues, “There is no completed trial data for any of the Covid-19 vaccine candidates: for the products used in India or anywhere else in the world. Therefore the term 'vaccine' for the experimental Covid-19 injections is an achievement of propaganda, not of science. The movie serves to further this propaganda.”
He concludes, “There are several crowning achievements of Indian scientists over the ages, which Indians can be rightfully proud of: ranging from zero (literally) to Ramanujam’s breathtaking mathematical genius to the recent strides in rocket science (also literal). Covid-19 vaccine development and rollout is most emphatically not among them.”
And finally, titled “Plenty of 'unwarranted fear mongering' about Covid virus, pandemic in The Vaccine War”, a person who has written in his (or her?) pseudonym, says, “The focus of the movie is on India’s indigenously developed vaccine Covaxin. Covaxin is a whole inactivated virus-based Covid-19 vaccine. The film promotes what could be called ‘vaccine nationalism’, or, in simplified terms: foreign vaccines bad, indigenous vaccines good.” Thus, there is “selective pro-vaccine propaganda” which “makes the movie a limited hangout.”
Disputing the indigenous claim, it underlines, “Bharat Biotech, the company where Covaxin was developed, was heavily funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and the international pharma lobby, making its indigenous credentials somehow suspect.” 
Yet, ironically, the film attacks a journalist named Rohini Singh Dhulla: “She is shown as a complete lackey and tool of the ‘foreign’ pharma lobby and of Pfizer, who is continuously attacking (Indian) ... vaccine scientists.” Thus, it “ignores or downplays dissenting views.”


Anonymous said…
The vaccines (not for those who had carona) did their work and saved lives. People were told of possible side effects and were given medicine for the same. If there were no vaccines than the situation would have been very bad and people would have said why no vaccines - despite huge hospitalisation and costing a lot. When there is a disease so will God give idea to make medicine for the disease. Those who took vaccines from any part of the world were safe.
Anonymous said…
It would have been better if author had brought up some real incidents rather than some study and observations to back the claim against covaxin. In case of AZ covieshield vaccine, there are recorded incidents and admitted by the manufacturer as well.
Anonymous said…
Lost me when this piece said "films with clear anti-minority bias"... another agenda driven post!


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