Opinion

Immunity shot for vaccine-makers?

PT Jyothi Datta | Updated on December 22, 2020 Published on December 22, 2020

Unease over firms seeking protection against legal disputes

Should companies making the Covid-19 vaccine be protected from cases that could be filed against them for problems possibly linked to the vaccine?

A concern like this is not usually discussed in public. But the pandemic has changed the rules and put scientific research, and ethical questions that come with it, pretty much under public scrutiny.

And the question of indemnity or protection for Covid-19 vaccine producers during a pandemic, for instance, is one such issue that’s drawing flak from public health workers. Tomorrow the entire pharmaceutical industry could queue up at the Government’s doorstep claiming to make medicines for greater public good and wanting protection from “frivolous” cases, they point out.

The need for indemnity was recently flagged by Serum Institute’s Chief Executive Adar Poonawalla. Serum Institute has rights to make and distribute the AstraZeneca-Oxford University’s Covid-19 vaccine in certain markets. And recently, a volunteer on trials for this vaccine alleged that side-effects he experienced were linked to the vaccine, which the company denied. His compensation claim for ₹5 crore was met with a counter-suit for damages of ₹100 crore by the company.

But immunity shots to companies are being given in other countries. The United Kingdom has granted Pfizer protection against cases linked to its vaccine. The UK was the first country to give limited approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for mass use.

Vaccine-makers say, their energies and funds get distracted in defending cases by people who may not always have noble intentions. And while that may be true, indemnity against such cases may be an over-reach. Pharmaceutical companies are known to take insurance to help cover legal cases, genuine or otherwise.

Besides, governments have pumped funds into development, manufacturing and even committed “at risk” to pick up Covid-19 vaccines. This begs the question, if companies are willing to accept the benefits and applause that come from all the combined work, then shouldn’t they take the responsibility as well, when there is a problem?

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Published on December 22, 2020
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