Centre denies asking Bharat Biotech to address WHO's COVAXIN suspension
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on Friday denied reports that it had asked Bharat Biotech to address issues to avoid the cancellation of the World Health Organization's (WHO) emergency approval for its COVAXIN. The MEA said that "selective parts" of its "communication have been highlighted out of context to portray an incorrect picture."
- The WHO announced on April 2 that it had decided to cancel the supply of COVAXIN via UN agencies in order to enable Bharat Biotech to address deficiencies in manufacturing practices discovered during an inspection.
- The WHO, however, stated the vaccine was effective and safe, adding there was no "change in the risk-benefit ratio," but advised countries that received COVAXIN to "take appropriate actions."
Reports claiming the MEA's alleged communication to Bharat Biotech referred "to an internal document circulated to members of the [Centre's] Empowered Group-5, which comprehensively looks at all issues related to vaccines," sources told ANI. They added the note only enlists different problems in a factual manner for the Empowered Group's consideration but doesn't indicate the MEA's stance or remark on any issue under review.
Recent reports cited an alleged MEA communication between Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla and the Empowered Group. Shringla said issues concerning vaccines used in the country and Indians' international travel have arisen, including the WHO's suspension of COVAXIN supplies and m-RNA-based booster requirements by several countries. He suggested Bharat Biotech address issues raised by the WHO to avoid the cancellation of COVAXIN's emergency approval.
The issue has become controversial as reports quoted Shringla as saying, "Bharat Biotech must address the matter immediately through DCGI and WHO and avoid any situation that may lead to cancellation of WHO's EUL (Emergency Use Listing) for COVAXIN." Notably, the MEA had also clarified earlier that the WHO's supply suspension will not affect travelers who had received the Bharat Biotech-manufactured COVID-19 vaccine.
Meanwhile, the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) on Tuesday granted further emergency use authorization to Bharat Biotech's COVAXIN for administration to kids in the 6-12 years age group and Biological E's Corbevax for the 5-12 age group as COVID-19 cases gradually rise in India.