Headlines July 6, 2020
ICMR backtracks on COVID vaccine after backlash
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has clarified that safety and interest of Indians would be the topmost priority while developing a coronavirus vaccine. This is after a backlash from medical experts who reacted strongly to the ICMR setting 15 August as a target for developing a vaccine.
Last week the ICMR, which is India’s top clinical research agency, said it was looking at launching a coronavirus vaccine by Independence Day. This led to accusations by many opposition parties that the date was being set to help Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s government score political points.
The letter by ICMR Director-General Balram Bhargava has asked doctors in 12 hospitals to “fast track” clinical trials. This also shocked some doctors and researchers, who said it was unrealistic to set a six-week deadline for a vaccine when safety trials have not even begun.
The ICMR has defended its message to doctors saying, “The letter by DG-ICMR to investigators of the clinical trial sites was meant to cut unnecessary red tape, without bypassing any necessary process, and speed up recruitment of participants. Just as red tape was not allowed to become a hindrance in the fast track approval of new indigenous testing kits or for introducing in the Indian market potential COVID-19 related drugs, the indigenous vaccine development process has also been sought to be insulated from slow file movement. The aim is to complete these phases at the earliest, so that population-based trials for efficacy could be initiated without delay”.
The vaccine trials will be done following the best practices and rigour, and will be reviewed, as required added the ICMR.
Dozens of vaccine candidates are at various stages of development around the world. India is expected to play an important role.
At least seven vaccines are being researched in India. One of them is being developed with ICMR.
“To my knowledge, such an accelerated development pathway has not been done EVER for any kind of vaccine, even for the ones being tried out in other countries,” said Anant Bhan, a doctor and public health researcher, on Twitter.
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