Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Thursday allayed fears flagged by his Chhattisgarh counterpart TS Singh Deo about Bharat Biotech’s coronavirus vaccine. Deo had asked the Union minister to stop the supply of Covaxin to Chhattisgarh.

In the letter to Vardhan, dated January 21, Deo had said that there was an “inhibition among the community” regarding Covaxin, as the vaccine had been given emergency use authoriation before the completion of third phase human trials. Deo further claimed that Covaxin vials did not carry expiry dates on them.

The Chhattisgarh health minister tweeted the letter on Thursday.

However, Vardhan rejected Deo’s claims and tweeted his letter written in response as well. “In such unprecedented times, you should help address any vaccine hesitancy & do what’s in best interest of people, not further vested interests,” the Union health minister said in his tweet, referring to Deo.

In his letter, Vardhan said that both Covaxin and Serum Institute’s Covishield vaccines were “safe and immunogenic” and “should be used expeditiously” to “rapidly confer protection to prioritized beneficiaries”.

“Your concern regarding unavailability of expiry date on Covaxin vial is also completely unfounded and without basis as the same is mentioned on the label of vaccine vials,” Vardhan wrote, posting a photo of one of the vials.

He further pointed out that Chhatisgarh has had been able to administer the first dose of vaccine to only 9.55% of its 2,09,512 front line workers. “…You would appreciate that this coverage needs to improve significantly since the adequate quantity of both the vaccines are available with the state,” Vardhan said.

Concerns over Covaxin

Developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research and the National Institute of Virology in Pune, Covaxin was granted emergency use authorisation in clinical trial mode by the government last month. However, it raised concerns among experts as the Central Drugs and Standards Committee approved it for use before completing the third phase human trials.

Last month, doctors of Delhi’ Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital demanded that they be given Serum Institute’s Covishield vaccine instead of Covaxin as the former has completed its Phase 3 trials. Organisations of survivors of 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy have also demanded to stop the ongoing trial of Bharat Biotech’s vaccine in the Madhya Pradesh capital, following the death of a volunteer, reportedly during the clinical trial of the vaccine.

However, in a study published in The Lancet journal last month, preliminary data of its Phase 1 trials of the vaccine showed that it was well tolerated and induced enhanced immune response with neutralising antibodies among participants.