Chhattisgarh Health Minister T.S. Singh Deo, on Tuesday, had expressed concerns over Bharat Biotech's Covaxin COVID-19 vaccine, saying he was not "confident" about asking people to take this vaccine. He had then said that the use of Covaxin must not be allowed in the state as its third-phase trial data has not been published yet.
"The third phase trial of Covaxin is under process. The vaccine has been approved for 'emergency use' [by the Drug Controller General of India]. Its use should be avoided until its complete results are out," Deo told reporters. Asked whether it would be administered to people in Chhattisgarh, Deo said: "In my opinion, it should not be allowed in the state. As of now, I am not confident of asking people to accept this vaccine."
On Tuesday, Deo said he had written to Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan urging him not to send Bharat Biotech's Covaxin till the Phase 3 clinical trial results are completed, while also expressing concern about the absence of expiry date on the vials of the vaccine.
"I have requested him to halt the supply of Covaxin to Chhattisgarh until these issues are addressed to the satisfaction of our health department to avoid the wastage of the early expiration doses of the drug," he said in another tweet.
What are the Covaxin concerns?
In India, Covaxin—indigenously developed by Bharat Biotech—had received the approval for emergency use, along with Oxford-AstraZeneca Covishield vaccine. The move had kicked up a political storm, with numerous opposition leaders saying the Covaxin approval was "premature" and can prove dangerous. The opposition leaders pointed out that Bharat Biotech had not yet had Phase 3 clinical trials, and said that approval was premature, citing a lack of vaccine efficacy data.
Health Minister Harsh Vardhan had then asserted that Covaxin is more likely to work against newer variants of the virus, including the UK variant, and asked politicians not to "discredit well laid out science-backed protocols" followed for approving the jab. Vardhan said: "COVAXIN is more likely to work against newer variants like N501Y variant [UK variant] and any other that may arise due to antigenic drift as it contains immunogens [epitopes] from other genes in addition to those from spike protein."
Vardhan response to Chhattisgarh minister
Responding to Deo's letter, Vardhan wrote: "Both these vaccines being supplied to the states /UTs are safe and immunogenic, and should be used expeditiously to rapidly confer protection to prioritised beneficiaries, thereby mitigating the impact of the pandemic at the earliest. Your concern regarding unavailability of expiry date on Covaxin vial is also completely unfounded and without basis, as the same is mentioned on the label of vaccine vials," Vardhan said in his letter.
He further noted that while Chhattisgarh has achieved 69.87 per cent coverage of its healthcare workers by giving them the first dose of the vaccine, the state has been able to cover only 9.55 per cent of 2,09,512 frontline workers through the first dose of the vaccine. "You would appreciate that this coverage needs to improve significantly since adequate quantity of both the vaccines are available with the state. I look forward to your continuous oversight and guidance to the ongoing COVID-19 vaccination drive in the state of Chhattisgarh which remains crucial for its success," he said.