Indian Council of Medical Research, the apex body in India in the field of biomedical research and nodal agency for the fight against Coronavirus pandemic, said the launch of Coronavirus vaccine for “public health use” will take place by 15th August 2020, 74th independence day of the country. ICMR has named India’s Covid-19 vaccine candidate as Covaxin, and claimed that the vaccine development will be completed by this year’s Independence Day.
The targeted deadline by the government body led to a furor among left-liberal establishment and a section of the scientific community which claimed that this is a “near impossible” timeline and the apex institution might compromise the standards of vaccine development in order to meet the target.
“I fear the global scientific community would be laughing at us for this. It should not have happened. India is a serious player in science. Who is going to trust us if we behave like this? Who is going to believe us even if we indeed come up with a good vaccine tomorrow?… And I am appalled at the kind of language used in the letter. It is not a letter, it reads like a threat,” said Shaheed Jameel, a virologist and Wellcome Trust-DBT alliance, an NGO that funds health research in India.
ICMR has now come out to clarify that the deadline was decided only to “motivate” the researchers and cut the bureaucratic “red tape”. “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 ICMR said. “The aim is to complete these phases at the earliest so that population-based trials for efficacy could be initiated without delay,” it added.
Covaxin, a Covid-19 vaccine developed by Bharat Biotech, a Hyderabad based biotech company, in collaboration with the National Institute Of Virology, an ICMR laboratory, is a major player in the global race to find a vaccine to the deadly disease. There are 12 hospitals carrying out a trial of Covaxin, and ICMR director general Balram Bhargava wrote a letter to these hospitals and asked to cut the unnecessary “red tape” in the clinical trials.
“It is envisaged to launch the vaccine for public health use latest by August 15, 2020, after completion of all clinical trials… You are strictly advised to fast-track all approvals related to the initiation of the clinical trial, and ensure that the subject enrolment is initiated no later than July 7, 2020,” reads the letter by Bhargava.
But, the August 15 deadline, mentioned in the letter by Bhargava to the hospitals, did not go well with the opposition. Countries around the world are working on war-footing to get a vaccine against the Coronavirus disease, and most of them have cut through all “unnecessary” steps to fasten up the vaccine development.
However, after ICMR did the same- the left-liberal establishment which specializes in anything but biomedical research, become an overnight scientist to criticize India’s apex medical research body’s deadline.
“Just as red tape was not allowed to become a hindrance in the fast track approval of new indigenous testing kits or for introducing in the Indian market potential COVID-19 related drugs, the indigenous vaccine development process has also been sought to be insulated from slow file movement,” the apex institution further clarified to shut the mouth of ‘section of the scientific community’.
In dealing with the pandemic, India has focused on domestic capabilities like the expertise of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) rather than toeing the WHO line. This is in sharp contrast with earlier times when WHO used to play a major role, in fact, it used to virtually run the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. In India’s fight against TB or in the immunization program, the international organization played a critical role.
However, the Modi government trusted domestic experts and this strategy has been quite successful, given the fact that the infection and death rate in India are among the lowest in the world. But, despite ICMR’s huge success and the strides India has made to have a working Covaxin, a section of the media and medical community is never going to trust the institution given their obvious biases.