A white van drove through the slums of Bhopal in central India to announce a COVID-19 vaccine.
The van reportedly said that anyone who gets one will receive 750 rupees.
But according to CNN, residents were unknowingly participating in a vaccine trial.
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It seemed like a win-win for the slum dwellers of Bhopal, central India, when a white van drove through the streets to announce: “Come and get the coronavirus vaccine and get 750 rupees!” of its speaker system.
But according to a new CNN report, the distributed shots were actually part of the third phase of Covaxin’s clinical trials in India – and most recipients were completely unaware that they were now part of a medical study.
Covaxin is the first proprietary COVID-19 vaccine in India. The vaccine has not yet been fully approved for public use and is currently only approved for limited emergency use. At the end of January, Bharat Biotech had stored more than 20 million doses of Covaxin and is working to manufacture 700 million by the end of 2021.
Many people who received vaccines thanks to the van’s instructions live in the Shankar Nagar slum, a few kilometers from the site of a 1984 industrial disaster that exposed around 500,000 people to a cloud of poisonous gas, reported CNN. Some locals still report experiencing health problems from the incident decades later.
CNN interviewed 21 people in the area who were shot during the trial. Many said they were drawn to the vaccine because of the promise of 750 rupees, or about $ 10 in the United States.
“I went there because of the greed of 750 rupees,” Hira Bai, a mother of three, told CNN. “Either way, we’re used to dying … my life is worthless.”
Public health experts have said the ethics of providing 750 rupees are questionable, especially if it has been used as an incentive to attract more volunteers.
Arun Shrivastav, the head of the pharmacology department at Gandhi Medical College in Bhopal, told CNN it would be “unethical” and “totally wrong” if the country announced the trial with a pledge of 750 rupees.
“If something like this happens, then it cannot count towards the trial and the trial would be banned,” Shrivastav told CNN.
Anil Kumar Dixit, the dean of the People’s College of Medical Sciences and Research Center in Bhopal, claimed that his hospital paid out 750 rupees to the participants, but said it was only to cover missed wages and that it was not not an inducement.
Many attendees told CNN they were unaware they may have been given a placebo.
Dixit told CNN that everyone involved had been fully informed that the shots were part of the trial, but more than half of the people CNN spoke with are illiterate and were unable to read the instructions. or forms provided by health officials.
For those who can’t read, he said, officials explained everything in Hindi or English before participants signed the forms.
Many Bhopal participants reported that they were not asked about the underlying health issues before entering the trial. A pregnant woman told CNN she received the first of two injections before being turned down for the second dose due to pregnancy.
According to Johns Hopkins University, India has the fourth highest death toll from COVID-19 in the world, with more than 156,000 deaths recorded.
The country is pushing for its healthcare workers to be vaccinated, but healthcare workers continue to refuse the local vaccine. According to Al Jazeera, India has vaccinated more than 10 million healthcare professionals, but only 11% of them agreed to be vaccinated against Covaxin. The others opted for an AstraZeneca vaccine.
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