India’s health minister asks states to stop vaccine “misinformation campaign”

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Indian Health Minister Harsh Vardhan (Image: Twitter)

Criticism to India’s homegrown vaccine has called its approval premature.

A second dry run of Covid-19 vaccines was conducted across most states, and union territories today. 

India’s Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan held a meeting with health ministers of states and union territories a day before the nationwide Covid-19 vaccine dry run and asked the state to stop what he called misinformation campaigns. The minister stated that all the required information about Covid-19 and vaccines was provided by the Centre and this should be used to stop any misinformation campaign on social media or elsewhere. 

The Indian government approved two Covid-19 vaccines—AstraZeneca-Oxford University’s Covishield manufactured by Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII), and the other, Bharat Biotech’s locally conceived Covaxin. Vardhan said: “Covid-19 vaccines Covishield and Covaxin are on the verge of being available in the country. Our efforts are to ensure seamless last mile delivery of the vaccine.” 

The emergency approval and distribution of homegrown vaccine Covaxin has sparked criticism from the opposition parties, medical experts, and scientists. The criticism is against the haste shown by the Indian regulators to approve the vaccine without sufficient data. Eminent microbiologist Dr Gagandeep Kang in an interview with The Hindu said she wouldn’t take a vaccine without efficacy data. “Bharat Biotech has data from animal challenge studies that are supportive of efficacy but that is not an automatic bridge to human efficacy,” Dr Kang said. Covaxin has also received backlash from Indian Congress leader Shashi Tharoor and other opposition leaders.

Director of AIIMS and member of the National Covid-19 task force, Dr Randeep Guleria, told The Indian Express that Covaxin was approved to ensure that it could be deployed in a clinical mode if there was a sudden surge in cases, and there was insufficient availability of Oxford University vaccine. Prominent virologist Shahid Jameel told the newspaper that even emergency use authorization requires efficacy data. 

The health ministry’s communication strategy aims to engage celebrities from different fields to build public trust in the vaccination exercise. 

Also Read: After India’s approval of two Covid vaccines, massive rollout program to begin

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