Teachable moment: The swift and sensible rapprochement of Serum and Bharat Biotech


On Sunday, January 3, the Indian regulator gave emergency use authorisation to two vaccines and health secretary Rajesh Bhushan has said that vaccine rollout is to begin within 10 days of that, meaning next week. However, the experience of other countries shows us that vaccine rollout is also fraught with challenges and contestations, and it is important to continue to address these transparently, effectively and in a timely manner.

In India we have already seen an unprecedented squabble between the vaccine makers themselves, with Serum Institute’s Adar Poonawalla suggesting that Covaxin was just “safe like water”, and Bharat Biotech’s Krishna Ella suggesting that volunteers in the Oxford-AstraZeneca trials were administered paracetamol before being given the shots (which would compromise the capturing of adverse reactions). It is welcome that the two companies have swiftly swung into damage control mode by releasing a joint statement about their shared commitment to “saving the lives and livelihoods of populations in India and the world”.

Similar sensibleness and swiftness is required on the part of the government too, even if it operates on many more frontiers than these two companies. Consider that while the controversy over how Covaxin gained approval without Phase III trial data continues apace, reports suggest that there are price related delays in formalising supply agreements. For example Poonawalla said on Sunday that he had actually stopped production because of uncertainty about how much to pack. While the government’s task is complex, rising to this challenge is imperative.

Read also: Expert panel approves Oxford, Bharat Biotech’s corona virus vaccine for emergency use

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