Damn public health to serve vaccine makers’ interests?

Sep 26, 2022

Vaccine takers do not know they are inoculated with an inactive virus to make their body develop antibodies. That is a speculative hope. No anti-Covid-19 vaccine has been tested for ascertaining any possible long term circulatory health complications. The hurriedly developed anti-Corona-19 vaccine cannot assure long term safety. It can only create more business for the makers, perhaps with recommendations for more jabs and other preventive cares. The ploy only assures them potential future business. Drug multinationals have a history of selling toxic drugs to the third world with two intentions, creating more patients for their future business and ascertaining data from the trials on people who enjoy a free supply of medicines. Don’t forget the Cutter’s polio vaccine disaster.

On 27th November, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited India’s three Covid-19 vaccine makers, apparently in a gesture of getting ready for the launch that is, but, yet not ready to roll out. Nor people are enthusiastic to take it. That was a much-hyped tour of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister’s visit to a commercial establishment is rare. Such a visit is usually celebrated by those who are visited. What compelled the Prime Minister to visit the three companies was unknown. But the hype disappeared soon because people are not curious about the vaccine’s arrival. Much to the fear of vaccine makers, the fear of the public has been declining, as the virus stopped rankling people. More interestingly, vaccine makers are seemingly at logger-head, one finding fault with the other. There could be worse mud-slinging, as each one is fighting for a share. A sorry state that has made the pandemic a comedy of errors.

On 3rd January, Covaxin developed by Bharat Biotech with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) got approval for restricted use, under emergency use category from the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI). A couple of days before, the Pune-based Serum Institute’s Covishield got approval for emergency use. On the same day, another domestically developed vaccine ZyCov-D also got approval for a third phase clinical trial. In a sense, none of the vaccines is ready for public supply with the support of adequate safety data. However, the process of setting up logistic infrastructure, training for inoculation and preparation for the vaccine supply continue on a war-footing basis. While “experts” question the efficacy of the vaccines, doctors reportedly give thumbs-up to it. No one still knows whether the vaccine dose is going to be supplied free of cost to all the people or only a select category.

While some are afraid of taking the vaccine, which is yet to prove its effectiveness, some are bold enough to resist a dose, as they are unafraid of the infection. A vaccine, which contains an inactive virus that people never know, is usually developed over a period of 10 to 12 years, a reasonable span to understand the effectiveness and health risks. The process of inoculating a virus particle to artificially produce an antibody to resist similar active virus is basically an unnatural method. Nature cannot guarantee a positive result in all candidates, because human biochemistry is not homogenous. Sensibly, it is only after a long period of trial across a broad category of human beings, reliability of a vaccine can be ascertained. But anti-Covid-19 vaccine took only seven months to develop. That will make every vaccine taker only trial runners with considerable risks. The death of a Portuguese health worker 48 hours after taking Pfizer’s vaccine is a warning. That should not go neglected. What was reported initially as a normal discomfort in the spot the shot was given, the 41-year old Sonia Acevedo, working at the Portuguese Institute of Oncology died at home. The hurriedly developed vaccine naturally couldn’t ascertain allergic reactions and long term side effects that various groups may suffer immediately or in future.

People are uninformed about this fact. Perhaps, two generations will have to bear the brunt of this unproven shot. Hence people should not be forced to take it, even if it comes free of cost, without convincing them they are inoculated with an inactive virus particle on a trial basis with its long term result yet to be proven. We Indians have the habit of taking blindly what comes free-cost.

As things go on, one can understand what is there to be happy with and what is there to be afraid of. It seems, as an issue of business for those who make it with capital investment, and an issue of making money for those who are involved in supply chains. In this vaccine game, who is concerned about public health? None. Why should the hapless people be dragged into it and be made victims of unintended trials? While the government seems to have been too much bothered about vaccine business, it seemed less concerned about the economic ruins of lockdown that people still suffer from. When science becomes a business, public perception about science changes. When the vaccine carries too many risks and virus infection has stopped bothering people, why should the government spend too much energy on a vaccine supply before proving their efficacy? Every question remains unanswered or answered as per their convenience unconvincingly.

No vaccine maker is giving a guarantee against either future infection or health safety of the vaccinated candidates. There may have been many more deaths like the death of the Portuguese health worker. Many instances may have been unreported. Astonishing. A vaccine that is developed in too short a period as seven months is a time-untested immunization. Its long term impact is unknown and clinically unpredictable also. Technology may play wonders. But it cannot tame the biochemistry of human beings. If there is no drug or technology available to fight the virus hitherto, how is it going to guarantee future safety?

Modi’s archrivals are now asking why is India too late to start vaccine delivery. Another politician, former Chief Minister of one of India’s most populated States called the vaccine “BJP Vaccine”. What does such a response indicate? The vaccine is a joke? Some politicians say they don’t trust the efficacy of the vaccine. This shows the vaccine is a political issue. It seems to be truly so. In the US and UK, vaccines developed by Pfizer and others got approval for public supply much earlier. December 2, the United Kingdom approved the vaccine for public use. Russia and China began many months ago. Israel reportedly immunized 10 per cent of the population by the end of 2020. There were also reports of health deterioration suffered by those who inoculated, eventually landing them in ICU in Europe and the US. Still, there is a rush for the vaccine in countries where the healthcare system is said to be highly admirable. Aren’t such reports a kind of sleight of hand to make the rest of the world believe and buy it at the very time the densely populated country like India is coming out of the troubles? Soaring death toll in California and the ongoing London panic haven’t frightened the Indians. Everywhere in the world, while ruling politicians are riding on something that is as if their achievements, vaccine makers’ are on a big bet before more entrants chase for a share.

Reports say, over 70 per cent of Indians are not afraid of the virus now. More than half the population in India doubt the safety of the hurriedly developed vaccines. Most people now ask, why should we use a vaccine without knowing the long term efficacy of the dose? Sensible people may not take the vaccine immediately after the roll-out. They may wait to see how it works and how it risks human health. All the vaccines in the world haven’t been safe ever. The vaccine front runner, Pfizer wanted the Indian government to compensate the people, if they suffer side effects of the vaccine, as a precondition for its supply.

Incidentally, for the US and British pharmaceutical companies, India is the biggest market for all drugs and vaccines. Vaccine makers have been building a mountain of hope as the world has been grappling with a healthcare crisis and fear. Hit hard by the pandemic, the western world is getting ready for a grand Easter 2021 celebration nursing an expectation of covering the population with the vaccine by the time.

The world cannot forget the Cutter Incident, the biggest medical disaster. The polio vaccine made by a Californian company, Cutter Laboratories wreaked havoc after it had produced a vaccine with a live virus in 1955. Several hundred thousand dosages were out without subjecting to thorough scrutiny. Several hundred thousand healthy children were exposed to the disease against which, incidentally, the inoculation was done. Cutter’s celebration over the success of the polio vaccine trials ended soon. A warning cannot be silly. The more we care; the more we are cautious, better our future. Vaccine advocates can claim a big victory, a victory over people’s pain. Free-vaccine brings celebration that makes everyone forget what could be in store. Boastfully big achievement! The pandemic curtain is down. The virus has already begun to fear the vaccine as the caseload is declining.