New Delhi: The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has debunked the rumour that serum of newborn calves is used in COVAXIN.
The MoHFW issued a statement to deny the mischievous misinformation doing rounds in the social media.
The statement makes it clear that serum is used only for growing cells to produce more virus and it has been a standard practice for several other vaccines, including that for polio, rabies and influenza viruses.
Gaurav Pandhi, the national coordinator of Digital communications & social media in Indian National Congress, on the basis of an RTI response of the government had tweeted suggesting that “Covaxin consists Newborn calf serum … which is a portion of clotted blood obtained from less than 20 days young cow-calves, after slaughtering them.”
He even tweeted a picture of RTI response from the government.
He also cited a study paper on the process of deriving Fatal Bovine Serum as well as Newborn Calf Serum.
However, other social media users were quick to point out the obvious error in the conclusion drawn from the RTI response of the government.
Anand Ranganathan, a scientist and commentator, in his response said: “Pl delete this tweet. 1. COVAXIN is the vaccine – it does NOT contain Calf serum as you allege. 2. Calves are NOT slaughtered for it. 3. Calf serum is used ONLY for growing cells to make more of the virus. 4. This information is ALREADY in public domain since September 2020.”
Earlier, in its statement, the ministry had said: “There have been some social media posts regarding composition of the COVAXIN vaccine where it has been suggested that COVAXIN vaccine contains the newborn calf serum. Facts have been twisted and misrepresented in these posts. Newborn Calf Serum is used only for preparation/ growth of vero cells. Different kinds of bovine and other animal serum are standard enrichment ingredient used globally for vero cell growth. Vero cells are used to establish cell lives which help in production of vaccines. This technique has been used for decades in Polio, Rabies, and Influenza vaccines.”
The statement adds: “These vero cells, after the growth, are washed with water, with chemicals (also technically known as buffer), many times to make it free from the newborn calf serum. Thereafter, these vero cells are infected with corona virus for viral growth.The vero cells are completely destroyed in the process of viral growth. Thereafter this grown virus is also killed (inactivated) and purified. This killed virus is then used to make the final vaccine, and in the final vaccine formulation no calf serum is used.”
It says: “Hence, the final vaccine (COVAXIN) does not contain newborn calf serum at all and the calf serum is not an ingredient of the final vaccine product.”
Social media is abuzz with a study that said that serum is derived from “healthy and slaughtered bovine calves.”
It says: Newborn calf serum is the “liquid fraction of clotted blood derived from healthy, slaughtered bovine calves aged less than 20 days, deemed fit for human consumption via ante or post-mortem inspection.” it says.
This was explained in a research paper ‘A Method for Differentiating Fetal Bovine Serum from Newborn Calf Serum,’ written by Michelle Cheever, Alyssa Master, and Rosemary Versteegen, in Bioprocessing Journal.
However, there are many on social media who debunked the idea and said that blood is either taken from a living calf or imported from slaughterhouses from outside of India.
They also pointed out that such selective misinformation may add to vaccine hesitancy in the country. There were many who felt that a concerted effort is on from some quarters to sabotage the fight against corona pandemic for political oneupmanship.