ECONOMY

Indian Government Used Faulty Data To Claim Few Infections Post Covid-19 Vaccination

“As everyone knows, there are two vaccines currently in use in our country. They prevent severe disease and death and definitely reduce infections; after vaccination, if we get infection, it is known as breakthrough infection,” said , Director General of the . Only 0.02% to 0.04%–or two to four per 10,000–of vaccinated persons saw breakthrough infections after Covid-19 vaccination, which is a very small number, but even these few infections could be explained partly by the higher exposure of the infected persons compared to the general population, and to the ongoing second surge in India, added Bhargava.

He ascribed “this small number” to healthcare and frontline workers who were the first to be vaccinated. “They are prone to more occupational exposure… But this is a very, very small number and not at all worrisome, and vaccination should continue,” said Bhargava, “The second point is that the current highly transmissible second wave may also contribute little bit, or miniscule, to this percentage; otherwise this could have been even 0%.”

At the same press conference, , member (health), NITI Aayog and head of India’s Covid-19 task force, said he wanted to make the point that these incidents of breakthrough infections are very low and, though research is going on, even if these occur there will be no severe Covid-19 disease, as per the data with the government till date. The government was systematically collecting data on breakthrough infections, he added.

Until recently, however, ICMR’s Specimen Referral Form (SRF), which laboratories are required to fill up when conducting a Covid-19 test, did not ask for information on whether the person being tested had been vaccinated against Covid-19 or not. On April 7–nearly three months after India began its vaccination programme–the was to include questions on whether the person being tested had received the Covid-19 vaccine; if so, then which one; and the dates on which the first and/or second doses had been received. This means that tests conducted for 81 days prior to April 7 did not contain this information, a senior official at the ICMR admitted, asking not to be named.

Even now, the changed ICMR form has not fully made it to the ground, we found. The government’s own National Centre for Disease Control’s checklist of forms (accessible at ) carries the of the ICMR SRF form, without fields for vaccination information. The websites of large diagnostic test providers including and all still have the old ICMR form until today. This means that many people who are testing positive for Covid-19 after getting vaccinated are still not being reflected in ICMR’s data on breakthrough infections.

Siddharth Chakravarty, a 38-year-old researcher with an NGO, got his first dose of the Covishield vaccine at a government primary health centre in Bengaluru on April 2. After experiencing mild symptoms, Chakravarty got himself tested for Covid-19 at a private lab in Delhi on April 19 and was positive. He was not required to give any details about prior vaccination, he said. (IndiaSpend reviewed his documents.)

B. Sumana (name changed on request to protect identity), 69, got her first dose of Covishield on April 3 in Chennai. On April 17, she experienced mild Covid-19 symptoms and got herself tested at a private lab. Again, no details on prior vaccination were sought. She then received a text message confirming receipt of her sample with a link to the ICMR’s Covid-19 Sample Collection Management System , from which she could download her Sample Referral Form. In the personal details section was the question: received Covid-19 vaccine? The form had already been filled out with the answer “no”, even though she had never been asked the question, and had actually received one dose. She tested Covid-19 positive. (IndiaSpend has reviewed all her documents.)

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