Health

No COVID-19 vaccine before 2021, Centre puts out then deletes

Sentence in question inadvertently included: PIB official; Things are contextual, says author of original article 

 
By Banjot Kaur
Last Updated: Sunday 05 July 2020
COVAXIN, a vaccine under development for COVID-19. Photo: Bharat Biotech Ltd

India’s attempt at a vaccine for the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) kept making news the third straight day. The Press Information Bureau (PIB) July 5, 2020 issued a release, indicating that no vaccine would be ready for use before next year. The sentence was later edited out.

The press release from the Union Ministry of Science and Technology, however, was originally a bylined article circulated July 4 by India Science Wire (ISW) — a news agency funded by the Department of Science and Technology. 

The article presented a landscape of research of COVID-19 vaccines around the world, including India’s. The piece posted on the PIB website at 3.21 pm originally stated:

“Along with two Indian vaccines, COVAXIN and ZyCOV-D, the world over, 11 out of 140 candidates have entered the human trials. None of these vaccines is unlikely (sic) to be ready for mass use before 2021.”

Minutes later, the second sentence was struck out even as the statement started doing the rounds of social media.

There was no disclaimer that the statement was edited.

PIB official with the ministry, KG Sharma, told Down To Earth that the sentence wasn’t supposed to be there: “It just escaped my attention.”

ISW did not retract the sentence from its article. ‘Unlikely’ was a typo; TV Venkateswaran, the author of the article, confirmed to DTE that his original piece did refer to a 2021 timeline. 

“I forwarded this statement on PIB only for common people to know how vaccines work,” Sharma said. Asked about the veracity of the sentence, he initially repeated it wasn’t ‘meant to be there’ and then said it was incorrect.

DTE also asked Venkateswaran whether it was incorrect. “May be. When you make a guess about a vaccine can you rally make a forecast like this,” he said.

“Making a speculation is not correct. In the current context PIB might be thinking it is better not to give a timeline and cause unnecessary apprehension. Nearly (year) 2021 is what I had said because that is what many people were saying in their articles. But I am not the person who is actually doing the research,” he added. 

Asked whether he would stand by what he wrote, he said: “These things are contextual.”

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