scorecardresearch

Covaxin doesn't contain 'newborn calf serum', says Bharat Biotech amid row

Vero cells are used to establish cell lives, which help in the production of vaccines. This technique has been used for decades in Polio, Rabies, and Influenza vaccines, says Bharat Biotech

The final vaccine (Covaxin) does not contain newborn calf serum at all, and it is not an ingredient of final vaccine product The final vaccine (Covaxin) does not contain newborn calf serum at all, and it is not an ingredient of final vaccine product

Amid the row over use of 'newborn calf serum' in the making of the vaccine, Bharat Biotech has clarified the calf serum is used only for the preparation or growth of Vero cells. The company said the final vaccine (Covaxin) does not contain newborn calf serum at all and it is not an ingredient of the final vaccine product.

It said 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. This technique has been used for decades in Polio, Rabies, and Influenza vaccines," it said, adding that after the growth, Vero cells are washed with water, with chemicals (technically known as a buffer), many times, to make it free from the newborn calf serum.

"Thereafter, these Vero cells are infected with coronavirus for viral growth," it said. The Vero cells are destroyed in the process of viral growth, it added. "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," the company stated.

Also read: Bharat Biotech says Rs 150 per dose for Covaxin a 'non-competitive price', 'not sustainable'

An RTI reply to applicant Vikas Patni, whose Twitter post was widely shared on the platform, suggests quoted the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) saying "newborn calf serum is used in the revival process of Vero cells, which is further used for the production of coronavirus during the manufacturing of Covaxin".

Another study shared along with the RTI query suggests serum is derived from "healthy and slaughtered bovine calves". Newborn calf serum is the "liquid fraction of clotted blood derived from healthy, slaughtered bovine calves aged less than 20 days, deemed fit for human consumption via ante or post-mortem inspection," it says. This was explained in a research paper 'A Method for Differentiating Fetal Bovine Serum from Newborn Calf Serum,' written by Michelle Cheever, Alyssa Master, and Rosemary Versteegen, in Bioprocessing Journal.

Also read: US FDA rejects emergency use approval for Bharat Biotech's Covaxin

The reports of "newborn calf serum" in the vaccine making process come amid several conspiracy theories. Misinformation is on the rise when it comes to Covid-19 vaccines, with many claiming a jab can cause death, while others say there's the presence of microchips in doses. Notably, an animal study conducted by Bharat Biotech in 2020 had also indicated the company uses newborn calf serum in making vaccines. The research paper, released by the Indian Council of Medical Research and Bharat Biotech, said blood serum from newborn cattle is one of the ingredients used in making Covaxin.

Also read: Covaxin production ramp-up may be delayed by 2 months; to reach 100 mn capacity by Nov