Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Wednesday said the decision to increase the gap between two doses of Covishield has been taken in a transparent manner based on scientific data, dismissing media reports claiming there was dissent from technical experts about increasing the gap.
The Centre on 13 May had approved extending the gap between the two doses of the Covishield vaccine from six to eight weeks to 12 to 16 weeks following a recommendation from the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI).
"India has a robust mechanism to evaluate data," Vardhan tweeted. "It is unfortunate that such an important issue is being politicised!"
In his tweet on Wednesday, Vardhan also attached a statement from the health ministry that quoted NK Arora, chief of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, about the changes.
Vardhan's statement comes amid a fresh debate over the ideal gap between the two doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. Reuters recently reported that India doubled the gap between two Covishield doses without "the agreement of the scientific group that it said recommended the increase". The report was based on interviews of three people privy to the developments.
The Centre also released a statement detailing what NTAGI chairperson Dr NK Arora told DD News. Arora said the decision to increase the gap between doses of Covishield " the Made-in-India version of the AstraZeneca vaccine " was taken on scientific evidence and in a transparent manner. "(There was) no dissent among NTAGI members regarding the decision," he was quoted as saying.
Arora further added that any further decision to change the gap between the two Covishield doses will be taken purely based on scientific evidence.
Also on the vaccine front, reports said that India's vaccination drive is about to get another push as the Pune-based Serum Institute announced that it hopes to launch Novavax's COVID-19 vaccine 'Covovax' in India by September as its trials are in an advanced stage of completion.
On Wednesday, India recorded 62,224 new coronavirus cases, taking its overall tally to 2,96,33,105. The toll rose by 2,542 to 3,79,573. The number of active cases fell below 9 lakh. India now has 8,65,432 active cases.
States like Odisha and Nagaland on Wednesday extended the lockdowns. Odisha extended its partial lockdown till 5 am on 1 July. Nagaland also further extended the ongoing state-wide lockdown till 30 June.
In yet another controversy for the Central Government, a row broke out on Wednesday as Congress leader Gaurav Pandhi alleged on Twitter that the indigenously developed COVID-19 vaccine COVAXIN contained a serum extracted from the blood of a newborn calf.
However, the Central Government clarified later that the final product that is eventually injected into humans does not contain any calf serum. The government on Wednesday dismissed the social media posts as "twisted and misrepresented".
"Newborn calf serum is used only for the preparation and growth of the vero cells. Serum from bovine and other animals are standard enrichment ingredient used globally for vero cell growth. Vero cells are used to establish cell lines that help in the production of vaccines. This technique has been used for decades in developing vaccines against polio, rabies, and influenza," the Union Health Ministry said in a statement.
"After growth, the vero cells are washed in water and with chemicals, also technically known as buffer, multiple times to make them free from newborn calf serum. The vero cells are then infected with coronavirus for viral growth," the health ministry said.
Meanwhile, reports of a "vaccine" scam have surfaced in a housing society in Mumbai's Kandivali area.
Residents of the society have complained to the police that they were apparently cheated by some persons who organised a COVID-19 vaccination camp for society members by claiming to represent a private hospital, and the vaccine that was administered could be spurious.
The society, Hiranandani Heritage Residents Welfare Association (HHRWA), has sought an investigation into the matter.
Adhir Chowdhury, NDA MPs clash over COVID-19 issues during PAC
A meeting of the Parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) witnessed a verbal slugfest between its chairman Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and MPs from the ruling NDA as the Congress leader sought to raise the issue of COVID-19 vaccination drive for discussion in the panel, sources said.
The PAC met for the first time after the outbreak of the second wave of coronavirus to finalise subjects for discussion for the current year.
During the meeting, Chowdhury started reading a suo-motu statement critical of the Centre's COVID management, which was vehemently opposed by BJP members, including Jagdambika Pal, and JD(U) MP Rajiv Ranjan Singh who said that reading statement is not in line with the rules, the sources said.
In his remarks during the meeting, Chowdhury also suggested taking up the vaccination drive issue for discussion in the panel, which was also strongly opposed by the MPs of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
Chennai NGO alleges underreporting of deaths in six hospitals
A Chennai NGO has alleged discrepancies in the state government's figures on COVID-19 deaths in Tamil Nadu between April and May.
Arappor Iyakkam said it had collated and analysed data from six hospitals " Government Rajaji Hospital in Madurai, Coimbatore Medical College Hospital, Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Medical College Hospital in Trichy, Vellore Medical College Hospital, Karur Medical College Hospital and Tiruppur Government Headquarters Hospital. The overall number of death certificates issued between April and May in these hospitals was 11,699.
"The report finds that the likely underreporting of Covid deaths in these six hospitals is at least 8.4 to 9.8 times more than the declared COVID-19 deaths in the media bulletin for the months of April and May 2021," the NGO claimed in its report.
Fatality rate among pregnant women higher in second wave, says ICMR
Pregnant and postpartum women were more severely affected during the second wave of COVID-19 as compared to the first with symptomatic cases and the case fatality rate is significantly higher among this category this year, according to a study by ICMR.
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on Wednesday said cases related to pregnant and postpartum women during the first wave (1 April, 2020 to 31 January, 2021) and during the second wave (1 February, 2021 to 14 May, 2021) of the pandemic in India were compared.
"Symptomatic cases were significantly higher at 28.7 percent in the second wave (111/387), compared to the first wave (162/1143) when the proportion was 14.2 percent," the apex research body said.
"The case fatality rate (CFR) among pregnant women and postpartum women was 5.7 percent (22/387) during the second wave, which was significantly higher compared to the scenario encountered during the first wave with CFR 0.7 percent (8/1143)," it said.
95% of vaccinated healthcare staff got protection against COVID-19, finds study
A multi-centre study on a cohort of over 31,000 vaccinated healthcare workers of a leading private facility, spanning across the country, has found that the COVID-19 vaccine provided protection against infection in "95 percent" of the beneficiaries.
The study by Apollo Hospitals took place over four and a half months, from 16 January to 30 May, and covered 31,621 healthcare workers who had received either both doses or the first dose of Covishield or COVAXIN, a hospital spokesperson said.
The brutal second wave of the coronavirus pandemic was at its peak in April and May. Several doctors died during this period, and many doctors who had received double doses were also infected in this duration.
Scrutinise Sonu Sood, Zeeshan Siddique's role in procuring COVID drugs: Bombay HC
The Bombay High Court on Wednesday directed the Maharashtra government to scrutinise the role that local Congress MLA Zeeshan Siddique and actor Sonu Sood played in the procurement and supply of anti-COVID-19 drugs to citizens, following their SOS calls and appeals on social media.
The high court also observed that "these people (celebrities) projected themselves as some kind of messiahs without verifying if the drugs were spurious or if the supply was legal".
A bench of Justices SP Deshmukh and GS Kulkarni issued the direction to the Maharashtra government after state Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni told the high court that it had registered a criminal case at the Mazgaon metropolitan court against a charitable trust, BDR Foundation, and its trustees for supplying anti-COVID-19 drug Remdesivir to Siddique even though the trust did not have the requisite licence.
Long queues seen outside Delhi Metro stations
Delhi metro experienced a surge in passengers as the city opened up in a phased manner. Long queues were seen because the entry/exit of the passengers is permitted only through a few identified gates of metro stations, in the wake of the prevailing COVID-19 situation.
In view of the rush of passengers to travel in metro trains, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation had to issue an appeal, seeking the cooperation of passengers. In this appeal made by DMRC Director Anuj Dayal, it has been said that all necessary steps are being taken to follow the Corona guidelines in Delhi Metro.
On the global front
South Africa tightened coronavirus restrictions, extending a curfew and limiting alcohol sales in the face of a surge in infections over the past two weeks. The country, the worst affected by the pandemic on the continent, has seen the daily figures for new cases double over the past two weeks, while hospital admissions have climbed by nearly 60 percent over the same period. The spike comes as South Africa struggles to roll out its inoculation programme, reports AFP.
France is lifting mandatory mask-wearing outdoors and will halt an eight-month nightly coronavirus curfew on 20 June. The announcement Wednesday by French Prime Minister Jean Castex comes as France is now registering about 3,900 new daily virus cases on average, down from 35,000 in the March-April peak. Over 58 percent of France's adult population has received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, as per AP.
With inputs from agencies