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Home > 2021 > Is A Dissenting View On COVID-19 Vaccine Allowed? | Bharat Dogra

Mainstream, VOL LIX No 25, New Delhi, June 5, 2021

Is A Dissenting View On COVID-19 Vaccine Allowed? | Bharat Dogra

Friday 4 June 2021, by Bharat Dogra

One of the most important contributions of a democratic debate in a democracy is that it allows all views, even the less wise ones, to be heard. The less wise ones can then be rejected after due consideration in the deliberations and the wise views prevail. In this ideal situation there remains the possibility that aspects of minority views can sometimes prove valuable and do not get entirely neglected. Such a democratic debate is particularly important in the context of issues which impact the health and welfare of a very large number of people and hence a democratic debate is very badly needed.

Coming to present times the issue of COVID-19 vaccine is clearly one such very important issue. But is a truly democratic debate really taking place which allows all voices to be heard and considered in a reasonable way? It appears instead that a consensus has been created around the view that the most rapid spread of COVID-19 vaccine is the real way forward at all levels and any view which questions this or departs from this would be treated as close to disinformation. The biggest regret is that even some of the champions of democratic debate appear to have succumbed to this view citing special needs of these difficult times. Nevertheless, this manufacturing of an artificial, unjustified consensus should be contested and different or dissenting views should also be asserted, and should get a reasonable space, so that the essential requirements of a democratic debate can be completed by drawing attention to several important but neglected aspects of this debate on such a vital issue.

We may start by stating the more obvious and better-known aspects regarding the proliferation of COVID-19 vaccines. The WHO reported on January 12 2021—as of December 2020 there are over 200 vaccine candidates for COVID-19 being developed. Of these at least 52 candidates are in human trials. On May 18 President Biden said the USA will be emerging as the biggest supplier of COVID-19 vaccines to other countries.( reported in The Statesman May 19 2021).

Writing in the context of India The Tribune wrote in its number one news on May 14—The Central government has said on May 13 that it is expecting that over 200 crore (one crore=10 million) doses ( of Covid vaccine) would become available in India between August and December this year, and reaching up to 300 crore (3000 million, or 3 billion) doses by the first quarter of 2022.

The Times of India ( May 14 ) provided the break-up of the projected availability of over 200 crore doses in August—December this year, as provided by official sources— 75 crore doses of Covishield, 55 crore doses of Covaxin, 16 crore doses of Sputnik V (vaccine licensed in India) and stocks of yet to be licensed vaccines –Bio-E Vaccine (projected availability of 30 crore doses between August and December 2021 ), Zydus Cadila DNA Vaccine (5 crore doses ), Novavax (SII) 20 crore , nasal vaccine (BB) 10 crore, Gennova 6 crore. ( Chandigarh editions of both newspapers quoted here).

The Bhaskar (a leading Hindi newspaper) of the same day confirms further in its main headline news that by the end of this year people will India will be able to choose between 8 Covid vaccines with a total stock of over 200 crore vaccine doses.

The Hindustan Times reported earlier on April 14 that corona virus vaccine cleared for use in western countries and Japan will get fast-track approval in India and also that Sputnik Vaccine of Russia has also been approved and deals for making 850 million doses a year has been signed with various companies.

One immediate question that emerges relates to the economic cost of this , which is not known yet. What is well-known, however, is that in recent times India has faced a severe resource crunch for essential needs relating to public health, school education, nutrition, sanitation, poverty alleviation schemes and other such obvious priorities.

However there are some even more important questions such as those relating to safety. As the race for developing and commercializing COVID-19 speeds up across the world, some saner voices including those of senior scientists are voicing increasing concern over the safety aspect of Covid vaccines which should be treated as the most important aspect of vaccine development. According to a report on an international symposium organized by the Indian Council of Medical Research to discuss novel ideas in science and ethics of vaccines against COVID 19 , “ most speakers highlighted the need for adopting best regulatory and ethical practices even at the cost of speed …”

One reason for safety concerns is that the normal time taken to develop a vaccine is about a decade ( 120 months). The fastest vaccine ever developed earlier was for mumps and even this vaccine took four years to develop. Now the various COVID-19 vaccines being mentioned are being developed within a period of 7 months to 17 months. Is this adequate time for all safety and efficacy aspects, as well as for studying the more specific possibilities of risks for special groups of people? What about the longer-term side effects which cannot be studied in such a short time? These questions should be answered in a completely honest and unbiased way before we go ahead on a fast track.

On August 11 2020 Russia launched a COVID-19 vaccine, described by President Vladimir Putin as the world’s first. It was also announced that industrial production of the vaccine will start in September and 20 countries have already ordered a billion doses.

However Russia’s Association of Clinical Trial Organizations responded with a warning, “ Fast-tracked approval will not make Russia the leader in the (vaccine), it will just expose consumers of the vaccine to unnecessary danger.”

However Russia is by no means the only guilty party in jumping steps to win a dubious race; several western multinational companies and other leading manufacturers in various countries also face criticism for not giving adequate importance to safety in the rush for speed. The same can no doubt be said about the Operation Warp Speed announced by President Trump earlier to speed up vaccine development and its extremely rapid commercial production in the USA.

Dr. N.K. Mehra, Indian Council of Medical Research emeritus scientist and former Dean of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences N.Delhi, wrote recently, “ The critical aspect of the process is to develop a protein that must be close to the original virus, and against which the body is able to raise antibodies for neutralizing the virus. Any deviation could lead to the development of “blocking factors’’ through a process called Antibody Dependent Enhancement (ADE).”

This eminent scientist explains further, “Simply put, rather than neutralizing the virus, such antibodies could do the opposite, namely facilitate further virus entry into cells. This has happened earlier for the dengue virus where the vaccine, rather than conferring protection, actually acted like a silent primary infection.” ( Covid 19: Decoding the global search for a vaccine, published in The Hindustan Times).

Other more detailed reports on the use of dengue vaccine in the Philippines state that a very large number of children who should not have been given this vaccine were given this vaccine, leading to death of a large number of children, public protests , court cases and large-scale loss of faith even in safe vaccines. This happened despite this vaccine being developed over a much longer time and more time being available to find out safety risks as well as identify groups of higher risk- susceptibility. ADE was mentioned as an important factor in these serious side-effects.

The Times of India ( April 4 2021) reported on the AstraZeneca Vaccine ( news report titled More Countries Limit Use of Astra Vax Over Safety Concerns—“More than a dozen countries have at one time suspended or partially suspended use of the shot, first on concerns about efficacy in older people, and on worries about rare side effects in younger people… The vaccine—developed with Oxford University—has been plagued by safety concerns and supply woes since Phase 3 trial results were published in December.”

The USA has a system called VAERS for reporting adverse impacts of vaccines, and even though this system has been criticized by official studies for very substantial underreporting of the actual adverse impacts, still it is important that under this system , for the period December 14 2020 to May 7 ( less than 5 months ) following Covid vaccines as many as 4057 deaths, 17,190 serious injuries and 192,954 total adverse events were reported. While it will take more detailed investigation to fully confirm any causal relationship, it is nevertheless significant that 24% of deaths occurred within 48 hours of vaccination, and 38% of deaths took place among people who became ill within 48 hours of vaccination.

Even more recent data says that the mark of 200000 adverse events has been passed a few days ago. It may be added that officials studies of the VAERS system have indicted the very substantial under-reporting of adverse events under this system, so that the actual number of adverse events is like to be much higher than what is mentioned in this already disturbing data.

Indian data at an earlier stage was summarized by R. Kumar, President of Society for Promotion of Ethical and Affordable Healthcare, in an article published in the Tribune dated April 14 2021, titled Variants making battle against the virus tougher—“ A presentation made to the National AEFI ( Adverse Event Following Immunization) Committee on March 31 recorded that there had been 180 deaths and over 700 serious adverse events till that time and three-fourths of the deaths had happened within three days of the shot.” Further this article stated, “ Paradoxically the virus graph started rising after the vaccination graph started in January. Why? Nobody is sure about the reasons. The fact that immune-escape mutants do not get neutralized by available vaccines has put a question mark over the mass vaccination drive.”

What this article pointed out has been also raised in a more detailed statement prepared at the world level by a group called Doctors for COVID-19 Ethics, a group which counts around 150 medical experts among those who support its statement, including Prof. Sucharit Bhakdi, MD, former Chair of the Institute of Medical Microbiology and Hygiene at Johannes Guttenberg Institute of Mianz ( Germany), a very widely cited scientist. This statement has said, “ Since vaccine roll-out, COVID-19 incidence has risen in numerous areas with high vaccination rates.” Further, this statement says, multiple series of COVID-19 fatalities have occurred shortly after the vaccination in senior homes. This statement says, “ Clotting events, currently receiving media attention, are likely just the tip of a huge iceberg.”

Another aspect is that particular objection has been taken to efforts to extend Covid vaccination to teenagers and very young people in some countries. A group of 93 doctors of Israel while opposing this have raised the question of longer-term impacts as well, saying---It cannot be ruled out that the vaccine will not have long-term impacts that have not yet been discovered at this time, including on growth, reproductive system and fertility. In the USA several frontline doctors have filed a motion for a temporary restraining order against use of COVID 19 vaccine in children. Groups which seek to protect health of children from several hazards and have a large following in western countries have taken up this issue in a big way.

Yet another concern voiced by several scientists relates to the fact that those Covid vaccines which essentially have only emergency use authorization are being used in a much more extended way. Going into legal details they point out that vaccine authorizations which are more of an experimental nature in terms of established norms are being used much beyond their mandate without giving proper attention to all safety and related aspects, and less attention is being given to non-hazardous, low-cost treatments that can be available to treat Covid cases.

Coming to the situation in India the gap between two doses of Covishield vaccine was first announced officially to be 28 days ( four weeks). Then after about 3 months the Union government announced in March 2021 that this should be changed to 6 to 8 weeks. Then again on May 13 the Union government announced that this should be changed to 12-16 weeks. As more and more Covid vaccines appear it will be challenge to decide accurately and communicate widely and firmly the gap for various double dose vaccines. Then it has to be ensured that the second dose is definitely available in time at all places including very remote places.

Then there is the additional question regarding the impact on a person who may get the first dose of one Covid vaccine and the second dose of another vaccine. The Indian Express quoted a leading immunologist Dr. Vineeta Bal on this issue ( May 14 2021 ) —Since all vaccine development efforts were carried out independently, there is no data to make a statement about whether two different vaccines can be used for two doses. The problem of coordination , in fact, will worsen with more vaccines becoming available.

Another question is—what will happen to those who need international travel on urgent basis and have also been vaccinated but who find that this particular vaccine is not accepted for international travel. Will their urgent need for international travel/employment push them towards another jab and what will be the risk? The Statesman ( May 23 ) reported, “ People who have been fully vaccinated with both doses of Covaxin will not be able to travel internationally for some time as the vaccine produced by Bharat Biotech has not been included in WHO Emergency Use Listing.” But this implication of making their choice was not told to them at the time of vaccination. Moreover this involves an inherent bias in favor of vaccines produced by multinational companies as compared to national ones.

What will be the situation a few months from now when in terms of official projections India will have 8 Covid Vaccines in use?

In addition there are the aspects relating to efficacy, particularly in the context of the new emerging variants.

The Chair of the WHO working group on COVID-19 vaccine, Philip Krause stated recently—The not so good news is that the rapid escalation of these ( new) variants suggests that it is possible for the virus to evolve into a vaccine resistant phenotype, this may happen sooner rather than we like. This statement obviously contains a very important possibility that may already be unfolding, even though the scientist has used the style of an understatement.

In another recent statement around the same time Maria Van Kerkhove , the WHO’s Technical Head for Covid said that a new more transmissible variant may be able to evade some of the protections provided by vaccines, and a surprising number of patients who have already been vaccinated have been found to be infected with the strain.

People who get infected with Covid-19 even after getting a vaccine shot are known as breakthrough cases. The Indian Express reported on May 12, 2021 ( Chandigarh edition)—A small-scale study in health workers at a private hospital in Delhi found that breakthrough infections occurred in 13.3 per cent of them ( about 1 in 7 ).
In case of vaccinations of doctors taking place in reputed hospitals, one cannot speak of cautions or protocols being neglected, so this kind of wide prevalence of breakthrough cases should be worrying.

R.Kumar ( quoted earlier above), wrote in the Tribune ( April 14, 2021), “ Delhi’s Sir Ganga Ram’s ( a leading reputed hospital) 37 doctors have tested positive for Covid despite vaccination. Similarly . KG Medical College Lucknow has reported 39 corona virus cases of faculty members after full vaccination. Is it a cause-and-effect relationship?”

Another important aspect that needs to be sorted out is whether the various Covid vaccines have been prepared keeping in view the possibility that this virus may not have come from naturally transmission processes and the possibility of this being a lab construct or a genetically altered virus is quite high. What is the difference in a vaccine prepared for a disease related to a virus which infects by natural processes , and a vaccine needed for a disease caused by a lab- created, genetically engineered virus? We should answer this question satisfactorily before committing our near future so much to many Covid vaccines with all their implications and complications.

Keeping in view these various factors the group of 150 plus medical experts quoted above, various teenager/ child/youth health groups and others have been pleading for a review of the policy of fast spread and extension of Covid vaccines. Some others have objected to linking vaccines to I.Ds and passports, and have pointed to the increase of control and surveillance of citizens based on this. Yet others have objected to making these vaccines compulsory, more or less, in certain employment zones, and asked for legal liability for any risks to be established firmly.

Many others are raising questions regarding who will be liable if many serious adverse impacts are revealed later, as has already happened in the case of even some of those vaccines which had much more time for trials and testing ( such as the dengue vaccine mentioned above). It is revealing, they point out, that even those manufacturers and developers who swear by safety develop cold feet when it comes to accepting liability. It has been asked how long this vaccination will continue and what will be the risks of repeated or regular vaccination. As risk of other future pandemics too has been reported it has been asked regarding how many vaccinations are safe for people, whether there is a limit at all and if many such vaccinations are to be in control of a few big multinational companies, to what extent health of people and entire nations will be controlled by them, particularly with entire health and vaccination records linked to I.Ds, passports etc.

The Covid Vaccine discourse is just now dominated by how to take it fast forward ( with both governments and several opposition parties in overdrive mode) and together with very powerful interests an attempt is made to create a consensus on the issue with no dissenting voices allowed. As a result the questions raised here have been getting only marginal attention, the main emphasis in policy as well as in media is to just rush up the Covid vaccines in unprecedented ways. Success is measured in vaccines supplied and given.

Instead it is important to have a much more comprehensive, multi-dimensional, democratic, evidence-based, well-informed and above all transparent discourse, in which all the relevant aspects are given the due attention and there are proper priorities. This is very important to avoid costly mistakes—costly for budgets as well as , what is certainly much more important, costly for health.

Another important factor seen in the context of Covid response in several countries is that once some important mistakes have been made, the reluctance at influential and powerful levels to accept these mistakes becomes the reason why even more mistakes are made. We really have to get out of this vicious cycle, to avoid costs of mistakes being too high. Correcting earlier mistakes in uncertain times should be considered honorable, not disgraceful.

Before concluding it should be pointed out that COVID-19 should get credit at least for one ‘great achievement’ –that of creating more billionaires, mostly those belonging to vaccine making multinational companies. According to the People’s Vaccine Alliance at least 9 persons belonging to Covid vaccine related businesses have emerged as new billionaires with a combined wealth of over $19 billion, while 8 other pre-existing billionaires having extensive portfolios in the Covid vaccine pharma companies have increased their wealth by around $32 billion ( see Countercurrents.org for article dated May 21 and titled—Profits First). Incidentally one billionaire ( or his organization) promoting Covid vaccines in a very big way is also a top funder of the international organization supposed to regulate this entire effort.

Here we may recall also that in 2009-10 during the course of the H1N1 swine-flu pandemic ( or rather so-called pandemic) vaccines worth billions were just wasted ( in fact their safe disposal became a problem) and budgetary health priorities suffered to the tunes of billions of dollars. The entire rush for vaccines was exposed by experts and prestigious medical journals ( not just media) to be driven by fraud and false assertions by multinational companies as well as scientists and officials who sought to benefit personally from the scam.

We conclude with the hope and appeal for a more democratic and comprehensive discourse on this issue of great importance this time around.

(The writer, a veteran journalist and author, is Honorary Coordinator of Save the Earth Now Campaign. His recent books include Protecting Earth for Children, Planet in Peril and Man Over Machine ( Gandhian ideas for our times). Web site bharatdogra.in)

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