India’s medical body accused of ‘fixing’ vaccine trial date

NEW DELHI: On the day after India’s top scientific body released a clarification to set Aug. 15 as the deadline for fast-tracking trials of a coronavirus disease vaccine (COVID-19), doctors and health experts said on Sunday that the Indian Medical Research Council (ICMR) was “fixing the date” for the use of the coveted medication.

“It is no accident that this ICMR vaccine-fixing trial comes soon after Baba Ramdev’s (yoga guru) flabbergasting claim to discover the Ayurvedic cure for COVID-19,” Harjit Singh Bhatti of New Delhi-based Progressive Medicos and Scientific Forum told Arab News.

He added that the fact that the order was released to initiate the public use vaccine by 15 Aug. meant that the results had already been given.

“The so-called trial is only an attempt to put a veneer of validity on them,” he said.

This follows Tuesday’s ICMR directive asking select medical institutions to speed up clinical trial approvals for Covaxin, a potential anti-virus candidate developed in partnership with Bharat Biotech International, a leading Hyderabad-based manufacturer of vaccines and bio-therapeutics.

The ICMR chief warned hospitals not to delay the trials, adding that “non-compliance” would be taken “very seriously.” “The letter by the ICMR director-general to investigators of the clinical trial sites was meant to cut unnecessary red tape, without bypassing any necessary process, and speed up recruitment of participants,” the statement said.

"It is very worrying that the ICMR will set a release date for a vaccine well before the start of the Phase 1 trial.

Amar Jesani, an independent researcher and editor of the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics based in Mumbai, said that the proposal was “laughable” and violated the guidelines of the ICMR on ethical medical practice.

Meanwhile, Soumya Swaminathan, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) chief scientist, cautioned that the vaccine would not come at “the expense of science and ethical principles.” As the Indian government’s chief medical agency, the ICMR is charged with formulating guidelines to tackle COVID-19 cases in the nation.

He thinks that the vaccine is the best thing to talk about,” Jesani said, adding that it could also be a means for the ICMR to redeem itself.

“The ICMR has certainly been under immense pressure for the last three months and needs to restore its credibility … [but] ultimately it is the science that determines the outcome,” he said.

India had more than 700,000 active COVID-19 cases with more than 20,000 deaths recorded as of Sunday. Read More