The allegations of expired vaccines being administered to the teenagers who began receiving their first jabs from today threw in the government machinery into a damage control mode as they refuted the claim citing the November 3, 2021, notification of the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) that approved the extension of shelf life of ‘Covaxin’ up to 12 months from the date of manufacture.
Bharat Biotech, the Hyderabad-based manufacturer of Covaxin – the only vaccine currently used in India for inoculating those falling between 15-18 age group – had released a statement in November regarding the extension of vaccine’s shelf life by writing, “Approval of (Covaxin) shelf life extension is based on the availability of additional stability data, which was submitted to CDSCO. The shelf life extension has been communicated to our stakeholders”.
As the news began to emerge of the “expired Covaxin administration” in tennegares today, the Union Health Ministry clarified that “such news were false and misleading”.
“There have been some media reports alleging that expired vaccines are being administered in India under its national Covid -19 vaccination programme. This is false and misleading and based on incomplete information,” the Union Health Ministry stated today.
In Gujarat, Devendra Shukla – a government employee and a father of a 15-year-old who got his son jabbed today – also complained of the usage of ‘expired’ Covaxin at a well-known city hospital in Bopal.
“I asked to see the expiry date on the box of the vaccine vial, but the hospital administration refused stating that they had no permission from the authorities. When I continued to insist, they put me in touch with their senior who told me that the vaccine was safe. He told me he will ask his team to show me the expiry date and I should proceed to get my kid vaccinated,” Shukla told Vibes of India (VoI), adding, “As he sounded confident, I got my kid vaccinated, but now I am worried.”
Shukla said that when he got around checking the expiry date printed on the Covaxin vials package – one of which was used to inoculate his son – he cornered the hospital administration for misleading him. “The date of expiry was November 21, 2021. When I accused them of not providing me with the basic information that I asked for, they pointed me towards their notice board where a sheet of paper with revised expiry date was pasted. It was not signed by any government official,” Shukla told VoI.
Shukla said he was concerned about the authenticity of the piece of paper as it was neither signed by CDSCO, Union or State Health Ministry.
The office of state health ministry, when posed with the concern of Shukla, told VoI that the notification was in line with the Union Health Ministry’s guideline.
Manoj Aggarwal, additional chief secretary of state’s health department, responded to the VoI’s query regarding expired vaccine administration by refuting the claims. “There are no expired vaccines being administered to kids in Gujarat,” Aggarwal told VoI.
Dr Somashekhar Nimbalkar, associate dean and professor of paediatrics at Pramukhswami Medical College, Gujarat, said in general, the shelf life of vaccines can be extended by a few months. “It is based on the length of stability data available. Usually, the potency of vaccines remains intact for a few months to three years following its date of expiry. That being said, there are obviously exceptions,” Dr Nimbalkar said.
Dr Bharat Gadhvi, president of Ahmedabad Hospitals and Nursing Homes Association (AHNA), said he was 100% certain that Covaxin is safe. “The issue, as I understand, is between the date until the emergency usage was approved by the Union Health Ministry and the lack of proper communication between the vaccines shelf life,” he said.
Story: Ashvita Singh & Ajeet Tiwari