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Health

Indian slum residents unknowingly part of COVID-19 vaccine trial – Insider

It seemed like a win-win for residents in the slums of Bhopal in central India when a white van drove through the streets advertising, “Come and take the coronavirus vaccine and get 750 rupees!” from its speaker system.

But according to a new report from CNN, the shots doled out were actually a part of the third phase of India’s Covaxin clinical trials — and most of the recipients were completely unaware they were now part of a medical study.

Covaxin is India’s first proprietary COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine has yet to be fully approved for public use and is currently only approved for restricted emergency use. As of late January, Bharat Biotech has stockpiled more than 20 million doses of Covaxin and is pushing to make 700 million by the end of 2021.

Many of the people who received vaccines through the van’s instruction live in the Shankar Nagar Slum, just miles from the site of a 1984 industrial disaster that exposed an estimated 500,000 people to a cloud of toxic gas, CNN reported. Some locals in the area still report feeling health issues from the incident decades years later.

CNN interviewed 21 people in the area who received shots in the trial. Many said they were drawn to get the vaccine because of the promise of 750 rupees, approximately $10 in the US.

“I went because of the greed of 750 rupees,” Hira Bai, a mother of three told CNN. “Anyway, we are used to dying … my life has no value.”

Public health experts said the ethics of providing 750 rupees is questionable, especially if it was used as an incentive to bring in more volunteers.

Arun Shrivastav, the head of the pharmacology department at the Gandhi Medical College in Bhopal, told CNN it would be “unethical” and “totally wrong” if the country advertised the trial with a promise of 750 rupees.

“If there is anything like this happening, then it cannot be counted in the trial and the trial would be barred,” Shrivastav told CNN.

Anil Kumar Dixit, the dean of People’s College of Medical Sciences and Research Centre in Bhopal, affirmed that his hospital paid the participants 750 rupees but said it was only to cover any missed wages and was not meant as an incentive.

Many participants told CNN they weren’t aware they may have received a placebo shot.

Dixit told CNN that everyone involved was made well aware that the shots were part of the trial, but over half of the people CNN spoke with are illiterate and were unable to read any of the instructions or forms that health officials provided.

For those who cannot read, he said, officials explained everything in Hindi or English before participants signed any forms.

Many of the Bhopal participants noted they weren’t asked about underlying health conditions before taking part in the trial. One pregnant woman told CNN she received the first of two injections before being turned away for the second dose due to the pregnancy.

According to Johns Hopkins University, India is home to the fourth-most COVID-19 deaths in the world, with more than 156,000 recorded.

The country is pushing for its healthcare workers to get vaccinated, but the healthcare workers continue to turn down the homegrown vaccine. According to Al Jazeera, India has vaccinated more than 10 million medical professionals, but only 11% of them agreed to take the Covaxin shot.  The rest opted for an AstraZeneca vaccine.

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