Covaxin, developed by Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech, has been given to crores of Indians and the demand for it often outstripped the supply. However, a claim has been made recently on social media that the Covid vaccine contains cow calf serum and that calves are slaughtered to manufacture the vaccine.
In addition, the social media post has also shared an RTI response to reiterate that Covaxin contains “newborn calf serum.” It said the serum is obtained from less than 20-day-old cow calves after slaughtering them.
In India, where the cow is regarded as divine, the information has set the social media on a storm with a wide circulation and many netizens seeking details on the claim as the slaughtering of cows is banned in many states across the country.
According to this research doc, this is how cow calf serum is obtained.
And RTI pic.twitter.com/MJV8Q6JW7r
— Sachin Agarwal (@SachinA34217498) June 16, 2021
The social media post has drawn immediate anger and anguish among the people seeking a boycott of Covaxin, while many questioned why the information has been kept secret until now.
Digiteye India too received requests for fact-checking the claim. At the outset, when Bharat Biotech official website has been checked for the information, the clarification in this regards was made by the company.
Bharat Biotech on Wednesday clarified that the serum obtained from the newborn calves was used in the manufacturing process of viral vaccines, the final formulation of the Covaxin, per se, is free from all impurities. For the entire process, see the article published in Lancet here.
In its statement, Bharat Biotech said: “Newborn calf serum is used in the manufacturing of viral vaccines. It is used for the growth of cells, but neither used in the growth of SARS CoV2 virus nor in the final formulation…Covaxin is highly purified to contain only the inactivated virus components by removing all other impurities.”
The vaccine maker has further noted that bovine serum is widely used in the manufacture of vaccines globally for several decades and it’s the standard practice. It also stated that the usage of newborn calf serum was transparently documented in various publications for the last 9 months.
Another official clarification was made by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) saying “facts have been twisted and misrepresented in these posts,” and emphasized the fact that the Covaxin in vials doesn’t contain calf serum.
“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 lives which help in the production of vaccines,” said the ministry’s statement as these vero cells, after the growth, are washed with water and chemicals several times in a process known as “buffer”. The washed cells are thus without the calf serum. Then, these cells are infected with coronavirus for viral growth.
“The vero cells are completely destroyed in the process of viral growth. Thereafter this grown virus is also killed (inactivated) and purified. This killed virus is then used to make the final vaccine, and in the final vaccine formulation, no calf serum is used. Hence, the final vaccine (COVAXIN) does not contain newborn calf serum at all and the calf serum is not an ingredient of the final vaccine product,” the ministry explained.
Another claim that calves were slaughtered for the manufacturing process was also denied as it is either taken from a live calf or imported from slaughterhouses outside of India.
Claim: Cow calves are slaughtered and their blood is taken to make Covaxin.
Conclusion: Cow calves are not slaughtered but their serum is used only to develop vero cells. Findal vaccine doesn’t contain calf serum as it is washed in the first stage itself. The claim is a misrepresentation.