India's government on Wednesday released a clarification regarding the ingredients of the Bharat Biotech's Covaxin jab after rumours started circulating on social media that it contains the serum of newborn calf.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said in a statement that "facts have been twisted and misrepresented in these posts''. The government confirmed calf serum is not a component of the vaccine.
"Newborn Calf Serum is used only for the preparation/ growth of Vero cells. Different kinds of bovine and other animal serum are standard enrichment ingredients used globally for Vero cell growth," the ministry stated.
"Vero cells are used to establish cell life which help in the production of vaccines. This technique has been used for decades in Polio, Rabies, and Influenza vaccines."
"These Vero cells, after they have grown, are washed with water, with chemicals (also technically known as a buffer), many times to make it free of the newborn calf serum. Thereafter, these Vero cells are infected with coronavirus for viral growth," it added.
Hence, the final vaccine (Covaxin) does not contain newborn calf serum at all and the serum is not an ingredient of the final vaccine product.
The clarification comes after a recent response by Bharat Biotech to a right to information (RTI) application asking about whether foetal bovine serum (FBS) is used to make coronavirus vaccines caused an uproar.
Bharat Biotech replied that newborn calf serum is used in the revival process of Vero cells, which are further used for the production of coronavirus during the manufacturing of Covaxin.
However, social media went berserk after several opposition leaders of the country posted the RTI response.
Earlier today, Gaurav Pandhi, the Congress Party's National Coordinator for Digital Communications and Social Media, took to Twitter and cited the RTI response claiming that Narendra Modi's government admitted that the vaccine made by Bharat Biotech “consists of Newborn Calf Serum .....which is a portion of clotted blood obtained from young cow-calves less than 20 days old, after slaughtering them”.
This development has arisen just as the issue of vaccine hesitancy among Indians, especially those living in the deep countryside, is rising. Reportedly, many are reluctant about receiving the vaccine because of concerns about the side effects or possible adverse reactions.
Dr Yash Javeri, who works in Critical Care, Anesthesia and Emergency Medicine, at the Regency Superspeciality Hospital in Lucknow city, told Sputnik: "It is an irony that we are fighting COVID-19 and tackling the menace of fake news. Such fake news needs to be tackled firmly at all levels. Scientific bodies and media houses share the responsibility of telling the truth to the common man."
"Public confidence in vaccination may decline because of real or perceived risks associated with immunisation, and this, in turn, may lead to lower vaccination coverage and loss of herd immunity," he stated.
Dr Javeri also pointed out that the hesitancy generally is prompted by fears of conditions such as impotency, death, chip implantation and magnetism. He stressed that the scientific authorities need to differentiate between the types of fears and anxiety to prevent them influencing vaccine acceptance and give important information and an essential base for future studies and interventions.
Apprehensions and unfounded beliefs have to be dealt with scientifically. He said that in places where successful vaccination programmes have been performed, not as many people are now dying from COVID-19.