Covishield Controversy: AstraZeneca's Disclosure Reopens Pandora's Box Of Disputes

The COVID-19 vaccination drive in India has been embroiled in yet another controversy after AstraZeneca's recent admission regarding a rare side effect of its Covishield vaccine, reigniting political debates and public outcry

A paramedic prepares to inject a shot of booster dose of COVID19 vaccine on December 27, 2022 in Srinagar, India. (Photo By Waseem Andrabi via Getty Images)

The Covid vaccination was hit by another controversy when the British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca admitted in the UK court on April 29, during a legal filing, that due to the Covid vaccine developed by them, known as Covishield in India, a rare medical condition has emerged as a side effect of this vaccine, which has been described as thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS). TTS is a rare condition in which blood clots start forming in the body and the number of platelets in the blood decreases. This vaccine developed by AstraZeneca was made in India by Serum Institute of India.

After this news came out, a man named Venugopalan Govindan, who lost his 20-year-old daughter in 2021, wrote on X, “The Govt knew that Covishield causes blood clots and it can be fatal. Serum Institute, the manufacturers, knew it.” He further added, “We will do a class action suit and bring every single perpetrator to justice. And ensure that our country’s systems are strengthened in such a way they can't repeat this ever.” 

Former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh and Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav targeted the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in this matter. In an X post, he wrote “Around 80 crore Indians have been given the Covishield vaccine, which is two doses per person, and the company that made its original formula has said that it causes a risk of heart attack.”

This is not the first time that the Covid vaccine has been surrounded by dispute. From the beginning of the Corona period till now, a series of political and social disputes related to vaccinations have emerged.

Recently, when the State Bank of India released the data related to electoral bonds, a new controversy emerged in which Serum Institute of India had donated Rs 50 crore 25 lakh to the Bharatiya Janata Party in three instalments in August 2022 through electoral bonds. After this data came out, supporters of opposition parties started targeting the BJP saying that as a result of taking donations through electoral bonds from Serum Institute, the BJP-ruled central government gave big orders for the vaccine to this company. 

In April 2021, the Serum Institute of India released a statement saying that it would sell its vaccine for different prices in private and government hospitals, Many politicians including the then congress president Sonia Gandhi and activists condemned this saying it was a classist approach towards a global pandemic. Earlier, the central government had also said that the vaccine would be given to different states at different prices. In April 2021, the Congress party alleged that the central government had committed favouritism by giving advance payments to SII for Covishield. 

During the vaccination drives, many leaders and activists came forward who refused to take the vaccine. Akhilesh Yadav had said in his initial statements that he would not take the vaccine because he could not trust the BJP, but on June 7, 2021, he decided to take the vaccine. Well-known lawyer and activist Prashant Bhushan had said during a petition in the Supreme Court that "it was unethical and irresponsible to use untested COVID-19 vaccines on children"

A controversy also emerged in 2021, many political parties alleged that the Government of India had limited the supply of Covid vaccine in the states ruled by them. The then-health minister of Maharashtra, Rajesh Tope said in one of his statements that, “We are having to tell people that since vaccine supplies have not arrived, they should go home”. Similarly, Odisha health minister Naba Kishore Das said in one of his statements that “the state may have to stop the vaccination drive if it does not get replenishments in two days. About 700 of our vaccination centres, out of the 1,400, have already closed. Right now, we have 5.34 lakh doses. We administer 2.5 lakh vaccines daily. So, our stock will last for 2 more days. We have written to Centre to send us a minimum of 25 lakh vaccines for 10 days so that we can vaccinate properly”. 

The governments of Delhi and Punjab had also made similar allegations against the Centre. The then Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan had refuted all the allegations of the states.

However, when Swami Ramdev of Patanjali launched a medicine called Coronil saying that Coronil can cure Covid 19, then Dr. Harsh Vardhan himself was present at that launch event. Many political parties including congress had condemned the presence of the Health Minister.