The Modi Government has admitted that domestically developed vaccine COVAXIN made by Bharat Biotech uses newborn calf serum during the process of manufacturing. Slaughter of the Cow (Pink Revolution) was one of the emotional issues that PM Narendra Modi used as a prop to barge into power in 2014 and he was inoculated with COVAXIN to display his solidarity with the Indian made vaccine. Newborn Calf Serum is the liquid fraction of clotted blood derived from healthy, slaughtered bovine calves aged less than 20 days. The admission comes after a reply by Bharat Biotech to a right to information (RTI) application asking about whether foetal bovine serum (FBS) is used to make coronavirus vaccines caused an uproar.
“Newborn Calf Serum is used only for the preparation/ growth of Vero cells. Different kinds of bovine and other animal serum are standard enrichment ingredients used globally for Vero cell growth… Vero cells are used to establish cell life which help in the production of vaccines. This technique has been used for decades in Polio, Rabies, and Influenza vaccines… These Vero cells, after they have grown, are washed with water, with chemicals (also technically known as a buffer), many times to make it free of the newborn calf serum. Thereafter, these Vero cells are infected with coronavirus for viral growth,” says the Modi government release.
Further, the release says that the Vero cells are destroyed in the process of viral growth. Thereafter, this virus is deactivated and purified. This neutralised virus is then used to make the final vaccine, and in the final vaccine formulation, no calf serum is used. Hence, the final vaccine does not contain newborn calf serum at all and the serum is not an ingredient of the final vaccine product.
Although the Modi Government has said that the newborn calf serum is purified after the creation of Vero cell, but the larger question of killing the calf in the process is unacceptable to the belief of millions of Hindus. Cow protection vigilante or the Gau Rakshaks, with affiliation to the Hindutva ecosystem from which the PM Modi belongs, has lynched some Muslims for beef trade and many states have enforced a ban on beef consumption.
Modi Government had created a vaccine hesitancy by premature approval for COVAXIN for emergency use and the use of newborn calf serum has raised a religious sensitivity angle to the Indian vaccine. In the past 2 decades, a lot of alternatives to foetal bovine serum has been in use. Serum-free cell culture represents a modern, valuable, and scientifically well accepted alternative to the use of FBS in cell and tissue culture.
About three weeks back, the total production of COVAXIN wad 6 crores and 2 crores has been administered in India. This means a large number of Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and cow revering believers have unwittingly inoculated by COVAXIN. A cow’s love for its calf is the purest depiction of the cow’s ultimate status of being a holy cow.