A post on social media about the use of serum of a newborn calf in Covaxin is going viral. It is being claimed that "In an RTI response, govt has admitted that Covaxin by Bharat Biotech consists serum obtained from 20 days or less Newborn Calves which is a portion of clotted blood". The claim is being shared with an RTI response.
This viral post took a political turn when Gaurav Pandhi, a member of the Congress party, tweeted about this issue and said, "In an RTI response, the Modi govt has admitted 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. THIS IS HEINOUS! This information should have been made public before". However, after heavy backlash on social media, Gaurav Pandhi deleted his tweet. You can see the screenshot of his tweet below.
The Covaxin vaccine contains newborn calf serum.
The claim is fake. Newborn calf serum is not used to make the final vaccine. The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has refuted the claim of the use of newborn calf serum in the vaccine.
In response to this claim, Bharat Biotech issued a statement on June 16, in which it said, "Newborn calf serum is used in the manufacturing of viral vaccines. It is used for the growth of cells but neither used in the growth of the SARS CoV2 virus nor in the final formulation. Covaxin is highly purified to contain only the inactivated virus components by removing all other impurities."
The Union Health Ministry also issued a clarification on Wednesday, stating that while the serum is used only to manufacture vaccines, the final vaccine does not contain newborn calf serum. The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare further added that facts have been "twisted and misrepresented" in social media posts.
Dr Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister of Family and Welfare, also tweeted on this issue.
While responding to the claim of calf getting killed to obtain blood serum for Covaxin, Dr Sumaiya sheikh, an Australian Neuroscientist, tweeted, "Animals are not killed to derive blood serum for covaxin. Either the blood is taken from alive calf or (usually the case) imported from slaughter houses from outside of India. Moreover, no amount of calf/cow is actually in the vaccine, it is only needed to produce it".
Meanwhile, Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) accused the Congress party of trying to derail the COVID-19 vaccination drive by fueling misinformation about Covaxin that it contains newborn calf serum. BJP official Twitter handle also tweeted about this.
Facts have been distorted
Newborn calf serum is used only for the preparation or growth of Vero cells. A variety of bovine or other animal serums are used globally for the development of Vero cells. These Vero cells help in the production of any vaccines.
Vero cells are infected with a virus
After the growth of Vero cells, it is washed with water and chemicals. This technique is called buffer. Vero cells are then infected with the coronavirus. Vero cells are completely destroyed after viral growth. After the Vero cells are destroyed, the virus also becomes inactivated or dies and becomes purified. This inactivated or dead virus is used to make the final vaccine. No newborn calf serum is used in the final vaccine.
Vaccines for polio, rabies or influenza are also made in this way. Vero cells are used in the production of vaccines. The same technology has been used for decades in vaccines for polio, rabies and influenza.
It is clear from the statement of Bharat Biotech and the Ministry of Health and Welfare that the calf serum is used only for the manufacturing of vaccines; the final vaccine does not contain newborn calf serum at all. Also, no calves are killed to derive blood serum for Covaxin. Hence, the claim is false.
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