India's fight against COVID-19 is set for a turning point with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to be rolled out in the next few days.
An expert panel of the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation had on Friday granted emergency approval for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, called Covishield. The Serum Institute of India is manufacturing Covishield. The panel had asked Bharat Biotech to expedite volunteer recruitment for the ongoing phase 3 clinical trial of its COVAXIN vaccine and recommended that it may conduct interim efficacy analysis for further consideration of restricted emergency use approval. Bharat Biotech's COVAXIN is the indigenous COVID-19 vaccine project that has made most progress in trials.
While healthcare professionals and the government are gearing up to begin administration of the COVID-19 vaccine by next week, BJP MP Subramanian Swamy is not too pleased.
Swamy took to Twitter on Saturday to claim development of vaccines was "national security matters” and said India must only get the Bharat Biotech vaccines. Swamy posted a number of tweets on the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
GOI to be true to Atmanirbhar Bharat must only get Vaccines developed by Bharat Biotech and none else. We can wait for a few months more. Foreigners are using Indians as Guinea pigs. These areas are national security matters for which Atmanirbhar is the only option.— Subramanian Swamy (@Swamy39) January 2, 2021
Swamy tweeted, "GOI to be true to Atmanirbhar Bharat must only get Vaccines developed by Bharat Biotech and none else. We can wait for a few months more. Foreigners are using Indians as Guinea pigs. These areas are national security matters for which Atmanirbhar is the only option."
Swamy appeared to buttress his argument against the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, by pointing out the WHO has not cleared it. The WHO has, so far, cleared only the COVID-19 vaccine by Pfizer. The UK had approved the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine on December 30.
Anger against Gates Foundation
Swamy's hostility towards the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine appears to be related to his suspicions about the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Swamy tweeted, “For Atmanirbhar Bharat the vaccine should come from Bharat Bio Tech not from Bill Gates under a UK label.”
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had committed $750 million towards development of the AstraZeneca vaccine at Oxford University in June last year. In August, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had provided conditional funding of $150 million to the Serum Institute of India. In December, Bill Gates wrote a blog post in which he said his foundation "took on some of the financial risk", so that if the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was not approved, Serum Institute "won't have to take a full loss".
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Swamy has been a critic of Bill Gates for several years. In 2017, he tweeted, "Bill Gates planted its director in the RBI Board and tried to sell US untested vaccines to India". Swamy added he had blocked both.
This is not the first time Swamy has alleged Indians were being made Guinea pigs. In 2018, Swamy tweeted on plans to conduct trials of genetically modified mosquitoes in India to control dengue and chikungunya and alleged such experiments had caused problems in Brazil.