Hyderabad: In a letter, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India requested that the Drugs Controller General of India, Dr VG Somani, to direct vaccine manufacturers to replace newborn calf serum (NBCS) with animal-free, commercially available, and chemically defined media in the production of the Covid-19 vaccine.
The recommendation comes in light of a report that Covaxin, developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research – uses NBCS during the production stage.
The Union Ministry of Health on Wednesday clarified, “This technique has been used for decades in Polio, Rabies, and Influenza vaccines. These vero cells, after the growth, are washed with water, with chemicals (also technically known as buffers), many times to make it free from the newborn calf serum. Thereafter, these vero cells are infected with coronavirus for viral growth.
“The vero cells are completely destroyed in the process of viral growth. 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 Ministry added.
PETA India sought the drugs controller to ensure that vaccine manufacturers switch to available animal-free media that overcome the limitations associated with the use of animal-derived serum.
“The calves used in the extraction of this serum are taken away from their mothers shortly after birth, which traumatises and distresses both the mother and calf,” says PETA India Science Policy Adviser Dr Ankita Pandey.
The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Slaughter House) Rules, 2001, prohibits the slaughter of pregnant animals and animals under three months of age – therefore, the use of serum obtained by slaughtering a calf younger than 20 days of age for vaccine production should also not be allowed, PETA said.
PETA further argues that the use of animal-derived components such as NBCS in vaccine production compromises the quality and reproducibility of research and is often associated with the risk of contamination by non-human proteins and pathogens. The use of animal-derived serum could also delay COVID-19 vaccine production if shortages are experienced as vaccine production increases – a concern avoided by the use of available, animal-free products.
“Animal-free media are already commercially available and can be used to grow vero cells for virus production instead of using NBCS extracted by slaughtering calves,” PETA said.
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