Is the Congress party sparking vaccine hesitancy?

·Columnist
·4-min read

Congress party’s national social media coordinator, Gaurav Pandhi, citing an RTI response, recently claimed that that newborn calf serum was used by Bharat Biotech to make the COVID-19 vaccine Covaxin.

"In an RTI response, the Modi Govt has admitted that Covaxin contains newborn calf serum .....which is a portion of clotted blood obtained from less than 20 days old young cow-calves, after slaughtering them. THIS IS HEINOUS! This information should have been made public before," Gaurav Pandhi wrote on Twitter.

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The Union health ministry also issued a clarification. "Facts have been twisted and misrepresented in these posts. Newborn calf serum is used only for the preparation/growth of vero cells. Different kinds of bovine and other animal serum are standard enrichment ingredients used globally for vero cell growth. Vero cells are used to establish cell lives which help in production of vaccines. This technique has been used for decades in Polio, Rabies, and Influenza vaccines," the Centre's statement added.

It reiterated that the final vaccine (Covaxin) does not contain newborn calf serum at all and the calf serum is not an ingredient of the final vaccine product.

Even Shiv Sena, which is part of the Maharashtra Vikas Agadi that includes the Congress, slammed the tweet. Shiv Sena MP Priyanka Chaturvedi tweeted, "Those who keep talking about the need for scientific temperament & research are now tweeting their disgust basis some RTI on Covaxin, adding to vaccine hesitancy by bringing religion-based choices to it. Please resist sliding down this slippery slope against vaccines."

This is not the first time

Earlier in May, Union Minister Hardeep Puri and Congress leader Shashi Tharoor engaged in a war of words on Twitter.

Puri accused the Congress party’s leaders of fuelling vaccine hesitancy. He accused Shashi of openly casting doubts about vaccine efficacy, choice of manufacturers and rollout to sow doubts in the minds of people. Shashi had questioned whether Covaxin had been tested on enough people and proven its worth.

In April, in response to former prime minister Manmohan Singh’s letter to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the COVID-19 situation in India, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan alleged Congress leaders and state governments had fuelled ‘vaccine hesitancy’ and were ‘playing with the lives of our countrymen’.

Harsh Vardhan claimed some Congress leaders ‘shamed the vaccines in public but took their doses in private’.

Harsh Vardhan added ‘irresponsible’ statements from some such leaders had resulted in ‘below-national average vaccination coverage’ of senior citizens and even front-line workers in some Congress-ruled states.

We all remember the infamous statement made by the Samajwadi Party Chief earlier this year. Akhilesh Yadav had said that he would not take the ‘BJP’s vaccine’. Following criticism, he subsequently tweeted that he had ‘full confidence’ in the ability of scientists, but he would not take the BJP’s ‘political vaccine’

Petty politics over pandemic

The vaccination pace is picking up in India with almost 75 lakh jabs having been given on Monday, June 21.

Total 28.25 crore vaccine doses have been given till date. Almost 20% of the eligible population has been given at least one dose. The pace has picked up from June 21 as the Centre has taken back control of inoculation of 18-45 year olds from the states.

Pandhi’s tweet shows the total lack of any strategy in the Congress party’s social media cell. People looking for some publicity are tweeting such things without any approval of the senior leaders. It also points to the weakening of the High Command in the party.

Even if the person may have tweeted in his ‘personal capacity’, there has been no condemnation from the party or even a statement stating that it has nothing to do with the tweet. This does more harm than good to the Congress.

The Congress party has been slamming the Modi government left, right and centre. It has become a daily ritual. It claimed credit when Modi announced the decentralisation policy of procurement and administration from May 1. Congress again claimed credit when Modi rescinded the earlier policy and announced recentralisation from June 21. This is a ‘chit bhi meri, patt bhi meri’ (heads I win, tails you lose) attitude displayed by Congress.

On the one hand, the Congress claims most of the decisions taken by the Modi government with respect to vaccination are in fact suggestions made by the party or their leadership. On the other hand, it criticises the government’s policies and programmes.

Vaccination for all is the only way India will build immunity against the coronavirus. There has been some hesitancy in rural areas and amongst certain people of a particular religion due to misinformation and illiteracy.

The Congress party, as a responsible national party, should support the government's efforts to educate people about the benefits of vaccination, dispel doubts and encourage them to take the jab.

It also needs to rein in such people who are creating confusion and sparking hesitancy.

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