A day after the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) issued a clarification on the row over fast-tracking of indigenous Covid-19 vaccine, the Press Information Bureau (PIB) on Sunday published a science feature article on Indian vaccines, but later omitted certain portions which talked about a timeline of their readiness for mass use.
The omitted part of the science feature had said that none of the vaccines that have entered human trials phase are likely to be ready for mass use before 2021.
The article, authored by Dr TV Venkateswaran and originally published by Vigyan Prasar, an autonomous body under the Department of Science and Technology, dwelt on how these vaccines work.
The PIB published the article at 3.21pm under the head of Ministry of Science and Technology, attributing it to India Science Wire of Vigyan Prasar.
Around 5.40pm, they had revised and republished the article. The revised PIB article can be read here. The revised article had altered a paragraph on the progress of the vaccine candidates.
The last two sentences of the original paragraph read, “Along with the two Indian vaccines, COVAXIN and ZyCov-D, the world over, 11 out of 140 vaccine candidates have entered the human trials. None of these vaccines is unlikely to be ready for mass use before 2021.”
PIB omitted the bit about the likely readiness timeline of the vaccines in the revised piece.
On condition of anonymity, a senior PIB official said, “This feature is an independent view and it is not endorsed by the Ministry of Science and Technology. That part was deleted because it was inadvertently included initially. The article was about how vaccines work and hence, that part was not relevant to the science feature.”
The Vigyan Prasar website continued to carry the unedited science feature at the time of publishing of this story. It can be read here.
When contacted to seek a comment on the issue, Ashutosh Sharma, Secretary of Ministry of Science and Technology, said, “I have no comment to offer right now. The Department of Biotechnology and ICMR can talk on the vaccines.”
When contacted, Dr Venkateswaran, a senior scientist at Vigyan Prasar, said science features published by the body are routinely published on the PIB website and one on solar eclipse was published recently.
“These are independent views and news of authors of Vigyan Prasar. These articles are published to popularise developments in the field of science as there is poor coverage of scientific issues in the media,” he said.
When asked about the editing of his article, he said, “The main import of my feature was to explain how vaccines work and maybe PIB thought that it was not necessary to include a timeframe to the readiness of vaccines. That is what I can say based on speculation or a guess. PIB usually contacts before editing articles and at times they don’t. It varies from time to time.”
Row over ICMR’s Letter
The omission about readiness of vaccines for mass use comes on the backdrop of a row generated by a letter issued by ICMR Director-General Dr Balram Bhargava.
On July 2, Dr Bhargava wrote to 13 sites selected for conducting human trials to test Covaxin, ICMR and Bharat Biotech’s vaccine candidate, stating that it was ‘envisaged to launch the vaccine for public health use by August 15,2020’.
Soon after, the scientific community raised questions on the letter. The Indian Academy of Sciences said that announcing a timeline was unfeasible and raised unrealistic hope and expectations in minds of citizens.
On Saturday, the ICMR clarified that the DG’s letter was meant to cut unnecessary red-tapism without bypassing any necessary process and speed up recruitment of participants.