Parliamentary panel questions Modi govt on vaccine efficacy, cites ‘trials not held widely’

The Print, January 12, 2021

Members of the standing committee on health Tuesday questioned the Modi government about the efficacy of the Covid vaccines it is set to roll out this week, ThePrint has learnt.

According to MPs who attended a meeting Tuesday where the panel was briefed about the vaccination drive by Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan, members also suggested that the vaccines be made free of cost.

The standing committee had called the health secretary Tuesday to hear about the government’s vaccine development plan, distribution management, and measures taken to mitigate the Covid-19 pandemic.

Bhushan offered the MPs a detailed presentation on the two vaccines — Covishield and Covaxin — that have been granted emergency-use authorisation by the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI).

“Members, including the BJP’s Suresh Prabhu and Anurag Sharma, and the Congress’ L. Hanumanthaiah expressed concern that since the trial is not being done widely, nobody, including doctors, know about the efficacy or the side effects of the vaccines,” an MP, requesting anonymity, told ThePrint.

In response, Union Health Secretary Bhushan informed the MPs that due process was followed in trials for the vaccines, and also in granting approvals to them.

‘Make vaccines free’

So far, 2 lakh personnel have been trained to administer the vaccine, Bhushan told the parliamentary panel.

He also informed the parliamentary panel that the government has procured Covishield and Covaxin from their manufacturers at Rs 200 and Rs 295 per dose, respectively, excluding taxes.

“Many of the MPs who attended the meeting said the Covid-19 vaccine should be administered for free. To this, the health secretary said the government is yet to take a decision on whether the vaccine is required for everybody or for select categories only,” a second MP told ThePrint.

Covishield, an international initiative developed by researchers at Oxford University and the British-Swedish firm AstraZeneca, is being manufactured in India by the Pune-based Serum Institute of India. The indigenous Covaxin has been developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

About vaccine storage in rural areas 

The standing committee members also questioned health ministry officials on the infrastructure in place to transport the vaccines to remote rural areas of the country, as well as store them.

“The vaccines will require cold storage and members wanted to know what kind of infrastructure has been put up in rural India for storing them. Some of the MPs said most of the warehouses that have cold-storage facilities are in urban India,” the second MP said. “They wanted to know, in such a situation, how is the government planning to cater to rural areas, where such a large number of population lives?”

To this, the health secretary replied that the government has made all arrangements to transport the vaccine to every nook and corner of the country.

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