The Centre on Wednesday dismissed social media posts claiming that Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin contains newborn calf serum. It said such posts are “twisted and misrepresented”.

Congress leader Gaurav Padhi, citing a Right to Information response, also claimed that the government has admitted Covaxin consists newborn calf serum. “...Which is a portion of clotted blood obtained from less than 20 days young cow-calves, after slaughtering them,” he tweeted. “This is heinous! This information should have been made public before.”

But, the RTI response clearly stated that newborn calf serum was used only in revival of vero cells, which is used in the production of the vaccine.

In a statement, the health ministry clarified that the final vaccine did not contain calf serum. “Different kinds of bovine and other animal serum are standard enrichment ingredient used globally for vero cell growth,” it added. “Vero cells are used to establish cell lines which help in production of vaccines. This technique has been used for decades in polio, rabies, and influenza vaccines.”

The health ministry also explained that the vero cells, after the growth, are washed with water and chemicals several times to make it free from the newborn calf serum. After this, they were infected with coronavirus for viral growth and completely destroyed in the process.

“Thereafter this grown virus is also killed (inactivated) and purified,” the statement added. “This killed virus is then used to make the final vaccine, and in the final vaccine formulation no calf serum is used. Hence, 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.”

India, which launched its vaccination drive on January 16, has been inoculating its population with two Covid-19 vaccines. One is Serum Institute’s Covishield, developed in collaboration with the Oxford University and drug company AstraZeneca. The other is Covaxin, created in partnership of Indian drug company Bharat Biotech and the Union government’s Indian Council of Medical Research.