Covaxin Does Not Contain Calf Serum, Health Ministry Says Amid Rumors
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and Covaxin’s producer Bharat Biotech, clarified on Wednesday that the final Covaxin dose does not contain serum from newborn calves. According to the Right to Information (RTI) reply released yesterday, the calf serum is used in the early stages to grow the cells found in vaccines but is not found in the final product. The central government also put out a “myth vs fact” sheet to address hesitancy around this.
The controversy around Covaxin and calf serum broke out after Vikas Patni, a Hyderabad-based individual, filed an RTI to understand the vaccine’s development process. Later, Gaurav Pandhi, an Indian National Congress MP tweeted out part of the response that included details about newborn calf serum — which further ignited controversy around bovine use.
Cows are sacred among Hindus and consuming them in any form is considered taboo. Rumors that allege the presence of calf serum without presenting facts or necessary caveats fuel fear and outrage in a country already polarized due to the hardline Hindutva line around cow protection. Further, putting out half-verified and sensational information about what constitutes a vaccine is dangerous at a time India already struggles with severe vaccine hesitancy.
According to the clarification, the serum is used to accelerate the growth of Vero cells. Vero cells are typically derived from African Green Monkey’s kidneys and are used in cell cultures for several medical reasons — including the development of vaccines.
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“It [Bovine serum] is used for the growth of [vero] cells, but neither used in the growth of SARS CoV2 virus nor in the final formulation. Covaxin is highly purified to contain only the inactivated virus components by removing all other impurities,” a statement from Bharat Biotech reads.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare also put out a statement stating that Vero cells are washed with water and chemicals after their growth in order to remove the calf serum. Then, they’re infected with the coronavirus in order to create the final vaccine.
The now-deleted tweet sensationalized the presence of calf serum, and wrongfully claimed that this information wasn’t in the public domain. Bharat Biotech maintains that the usage of bovine serum has been transparent in all its research publications for the past nine months.