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Editorial: Stop canards against vaccines

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Bigotry, superstition, fear-mongering and anti-science positioning have been the major hurdles to vaccination missions around the world over decades. Unfounded fears, often invoking religious sentiments, feed into vaccine hesitancy among the people. Despite the vast scientific advancements and incontrovertible evidence in favour of vaccines to fight various diseases, every country is confronting a small section of naysayers who continue to spread canards about new vaccines. The recent controversy over the alleged presence of calf serum in Covaxin, the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech, falls into this category. Such unseemly controversies, deliberately created by mischievous elements to spread fear and confusion among the people about the vaccines, must be nipped in the bud on the strength of science and logic. Both the Central government and the vaccine maker did well to swiftly clarify that Covaxin does not contain new-born calf serum. It is unfortunate that the social media coordinator of the Congress, Gaurav Pandhi, who peddled the calf serum theory, had twisted the facts to fuel vaccine hesitancy and accused the NDA government of betraying “faith and belief” of the people. He had claimed that the blood of 20-day-old bovine calves was used to make the vaccine after slaughtering them. When rumours spread on social media and questions were raised about vaccines, the Health Ministry came out with a quick clarification. Globally, it is a standard practice to use different kinds of bovine and other animal serum for the growth of vero cells — lineage of cells used for pathogen culture — but it was not used in the growth of SARS CoV2 virus or in the final formulation of the vaccine. Covaxin uses the same standard practice used for all vaccines for the last 50 years, including Polio.

It is reprehensible to invoke religious fears to spread falsehood against vaccines. In the recent past, some Muslim clerics had raised concerns over the alleged use of pork gelatin in Covid-19 vaccines. And some Hindu religious leaders sought clarification from the government over the reported use of cow blood. While consumption of pork in any form is ‘haram’ or forbidden in Islam, the cow is revered in Hinduism. Sections of the Christian community across the world also debated the acceptability of vaccines due to the alleged use of aborted foetal tissue. Finally, the Vatican — the highest seat of Catholic Christianity — declared that it is “morally acceptable” to receive Covid-19 vaccines. Superstitions and archaic beliefs appear to be the key reason for the hesitation among some people in voluntarily taking the vaccine shots. There is a need to educate citizens, particularly in rural areas, about taking the vaccine to save lives.

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