PIB uploads article claiming none of six Indian companies working on COVID-19 vaccine will have it ready before 2021, later removes mention of year

The statement deleted from the article on PIB contradicted the Indian Council of Medical Research's plan to launch a vaccine by 15 August this year.

Neerad Pandharipande July 05, 2020 23:03:25 IST
PIB uploads article claiming none of six Indian companies working on COVID-19 vaccine will have it ready before 2021, later removes mention of year

The Press Information Bureau on Sunday published, and later deleted, a statement that no vaccines against COVID-19 could be ready for mass use before 2021. The statement, which contradicts the Indian Council of Medical Research's plan to launch a vaccine by 15 August this year, was a part of an article written by TV Venkateswaran, a scientist at Vigyan Prasar, an autonomous organisation under the Union government's department of science and technology.

Speaking to Firstpost, Venkateswaran said that while the statement was a part of the original article, the line was removed as the year was 'not the point of the article.'

Venkateswaran told Firstpost, "The main purpose of the article was to explain in simple language how the two vaccines that are being developed in India (COVAXIN and ZyCov-D) work. When I said that the vaccines will not be available before 2021, it was a statement that was based on certain facts. Even if we have a drug today, we would need about 12 crore doses of it in order for it to reach even 10 percent of the population. One cannot produce 12 crore doses of a drug merely by waving a magic wand. In that sense, the statement in the article was a very ordinary one. However, the PIB most likely thought that such a firm statement might unnecessarily confuse the public, and so they edited it out."

However, in the original article, the statement in question was not made in the context of the challenges in producing a certain number of doses of the vaccine. The paragraph before the line in question had mentioned that globally, 140 vaccines against COVID-19 are under various stages of development.

In the next paragraph, the author spoke about the scenario in India. He wrote, "Parallelly, Indian institutions have also engaged in R&D for the development of vaccines in India. With the primary scientific inputs coming from institutions like Pune based ICMR Institution, National Institute of Virology and Hyderabad based CSIR institution Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology, six Indian companies are working on a vaccine for COVID-19. Along with the two Indian vaccines, COVAXIN and ZyCov-D, the world over, 11 out of 140 vaccine candidates have entered the human trials. None of these vaccines is unlikely to be ready for mass use before 2021. (sic)"

Following is a screenshot of the original article:

PIB uploads article claiming none of six Indian companies working on COVID19 vaccine will have it ready before 2021 later removes mention of year

In the article that is now publicly available on the PIB's website, the underlined sentence has been removed.

PIB uploads article claiming none of six Indian companies working on COVID19 vaccine will have it ready before 2021 later removes mention of year

On 4 July, Venkateswaran also wrote an article on the news website The Federal, in which he spoke in detail about the process of conducting the clinical trial of COVAXIN. He wrote, "The public information available in the Clinical Trial Registry of India (CTRI) indicates that the follow ups of the trial will be carried on Day 14, Day 28, Day 104 and Day 194, that is about six months. The whole effort may take a year and three months according to the submission made by Bharat Biotech."

Elaborating on the above statement, Venkateswaran told Firstpost, "If Bharat Biotech (which is developing the vaccine) says that the process will take a year and three months, who am I to counter or question it? I have no role in that."

At the heart on the ongoing controversy is a letter written by the ICMR to Bharat Biotech on 2 July, in which it stated that it is "envisaged to launch the vaccine for public health use latest by 15 August." Several experts have questioned whether a vaccine launched at such a short deadline would compromise standards of safety and efficacy.

As of now, Bharat Biotech have not commented on whether it is feasible to launch the vaccine on 15 August, instead of the original deadline of one year and three months. However, speaking to Firstpost, Dr Chandrasekhar Gillurkar, one of the investigators in the clinical trial, said, "It will be difficult to finish the trials by 15 August. However, the results of Phase 1 of the trial, and a general inclination of the results of Phase 2 can become known by that date. The government can get an initial idea about the safety and immunogenicity (ability of a foreign substance to provoke an immune response in the human body) of the vaccine by that deadline. Even after 15 August, the various processes involved in the trial will go on."

When asked whether it would be correct to claim that the vaccine would be ready for public health use by 15 August, Gillurkar said, "No, it is difficult to say that. However, once we submit our report, the government will take a decision on what action to take on it. Everything depends on what the results of the clinical trials will be."

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