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WHO, UN experts at launch of book on Covaxin even as Bharat Biotech awaits emergency listing

'Going Viral: The Inside Story of Covaxin', written by ICMR DG Dr Balram Bhargava, was handed over to WHO and UN officials by the author during an event at UNAIDS office in Geneva.

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New Delhi: Even as Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin’s inclusion in the emergency use listing (EUL) category of the World Health Organization (WHO) remains in limbo, India lined up officials from the WHO and UN at the launch of a book on the making of the vaccine.

The book Going Viral: The Inside Story of Covaxin, according to ICMR officials, covers the entire journey not just of Covaxin but also chronicles a bit of India’s Covid journey from the first case in January 2020.

Among those present at the launch of the book at the UNAIDS office in Geneva Thursday were Dr Soumya Swaminathan, WHO chief scientist; Dr Mariangela Simao, WHO ADG Access to Medicines and Health Products; Nana Taona Kuo, Senior Health Adviser, Executive Office of the UN Secretary-General; and Puneet Agarwal, DPR Indian Mission to the UN in Geneva.

The presence of Dr Balram Bhargava, DG ICMR, in Geneva at a time when the process of granting EUL to Covaxin is being pushed from one meeting of the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) of WHO to its next — it was last taken up on 26 October and will again be considered on 3 November — has raised speculation about it having to do with the process of getting approval.

ICMR officials, however, clarified that Dr Bhargava was in Geneva for a “health technology assessment meeting”.

The officials also denied that Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, was expected to be present at the event but he backed out because of the ongoing EUL tussle. “Whoever is saying Dr Tedros was to be present is probably related to the DG and has inside information that we are not aware of,” said a senior ICMR official.

“The world is very interested in Covaxin. The adjuvant featured as a cover of the international science journal iScience so people are very inquisitive. There is a perception that killed virus vaccines do not work well but we have showed otherwise. That is why the launch happened in Geneva,” said Dr Samiran Panda, head of epidemiology and communicable diseases at ICMR.

Responding to a question from epidemiologist Dr Ramanan Laxminarayan, founder of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy, Dr Bhargava said: “You asked about what we would have done differently. We know the vaccine needs BSLIII facility and scaling up was an issue… About 85% of the vaccines used in India were AstraZeneca. But we will now see more and more of Covaxin.”

Dr Bhargava, however, did not reply to the question about the EUL process.

Also read: 2 months after vaccine approval, Covid shots for kids stuck on list of comorbidities, procedure

‘India has an important role to play’

The officials praised India’s handling of the pandemic but no mention was made of the vaccine’s troubles with the WHO regulatory framework.

Congratulating ICMR and tracing her own past as the head of the council, Dr Soumya Swaminathan stressed the need for more teams on the ground and more community-based surveillance to detect future pandemics faster.

India, she said, has an important role to play as a technology and data sharing hub.

Dr Simao, who is from Brazil, described India’s “staggering numbers” as a challenge and congratulated the ICMR for the vaccine. “WHO is very supportive of India’s initiative on TRIPS waiver,” she said.

Kuo, meanwhile, said India’s success shows the “strength of low and middle income countries”.

Also read: India says given all Covaxin data to WHO, expect positive outcome at meeting next week


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