From the Viewsroom

Nothing scientific about it

PT Jyothi Datta | Updated on July 12, 2020 Published on July 12, 2020

A hasty approach to producing a Covid vaccine will cost us dear

It’s quite telling that several health writers did a double take when they saw the Indian Council of Medical Research’s (ICMR’s) letter to scientific institutions on having an indigenous vaccine ready for public use by August 15.

The writers could not be faulted for thinking the letter could be “fake”, given its incredulous tone. And, the political message that came through, a launch for Independence Day perhaps, even if the letter did not quite say it.

With all the trappings of an official note, the letter ended saying, “non-compliance will be viewed very seriously.” The letter stirred a hornet’s nest with doctors pointing to the steep deadline and the risk it posed to patients.

Mercifully, scientific voices have since stepped in and reportedly told a Parliamentary panel that a vaccine is unlikely till next year.

A vaccine takes years to develop, from getting a suitable candidate to running it through non-human and human trials.

With the novel coronavirus, the timelines have collapsed to about 18 months. But international researchers explain, that’s because ongoing research on vaccines for SARS-CoV-1 came in useful for SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19). So the research is not entirely from scratch.

Across the world, research is under intense scrutiny. And for scientific data to be taken seriously, processes need to be transparent, outcomes peer-reviewed and participants held accountable. But on ICMR’s ambitions vaccine timeline, the air is still muggy.

What fuelled such confidence? Further damaging for the Indian research story is the exit of reputed scientific voices when their expertise is most needed — Dr Gagandeep Kang’s untimely exit from the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute, for example. Kang is the first Indian woman elected Fellow of The Royal Society of London.

India needs to nurture its scientific experts and create an ecosystem that inspires research to be done that withstands international scrutiny. A goalpost short of that does not augur well for the country’s scientific temper.

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Published on July 12, 2020
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