Indian anti-vaccination groups are now using religion as a card to stop people from taking the COVID-19 vaccine.
These groups, led by the `Awaken India Movement' are sharing the template of a letter that requests religious exemption to avoid taking the COVID-19 vaccine. The template is being shared on messaging platform Telegram.
The template falsely claims that it is mandatory to take the vaccines and that it contains aborted foetal cells as well as cow bovine serum.
Earlier the same groups spread misinformation against the COVID-19 vaccine through social media groups, leaflets and videos even claiming COVID-19 vaccines can alter DNA.
India's Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has said and formally maintained the COVID-19 vaccine is voluntary and not mandatory.
Anti-vaxxer groups are encouraging their followers to send the letter to the District/Sub-District Magistrate. They are also provoking their followers by claiming that the vaccines will hurt their religious sentiments as it contains aborted foetal cells and cow bovine serum.
In the past, BOOM has reported that both the vaccines currently in use in India, do not contain any of these cells in the final product. Both aborted foetal cells as well as cow bovine serum are used in the growth medium and then removed from the final vaccine through purification.
While the Oxford- AstraZeneca vaccine uses an old cell line of MRC 5 cells to help the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein grow in an adenoviral cell, Covaxin produced by Indian firm Bharat Biotech, uses new born cow serum to help inactivate the SARS-CoV-2 virus and let it grow in vero cells.
Before being injected, the vaccines undergo many rounds of purification to ensure that these cells are not found in the final product.
Incidentally the letter, accessed by BOOM reads, "I want religious exemption from all types of vaccines as our religion does not permit some objectionable ingredient such as foetal bovine serum, pork, cow gelatin, vero cell, MRC-5 cell, alcohol, aborted baby parts, aluminum to be injected to our body. I do not want to impair my religion by injecting animal foetus, aborted baby serum in my body."
The letter further asks that the government create vaccine related courts for people to complain about vaccines at the district level. They also want a compensation policy wherein vaccine manufacturers will have to pay up to ₹20 crore if any recipient faces any adverse effect.
Citing several older judicial orders from India as well as abroad, and stating that religious exemption is accepted for vaccines containing foetal bovine serum in the US, these anti-vaccination groups want the same to be followed in India.
They cite the case of American physician Stanley Plotkin when he testified in court in 2018 against vaccine hesitancy and explained the use of aborted foetal cells. As he was consulting with several international pharmaceuticals, the US lawyer Aaron Siri raised questions on conflict of interest in his deposition where he propagated the use of vaccines if there were no contraindications.
The letter even mentions a recent Right To Information (RTI) response that clarifies that Covaxin uses new born calf serum. The letter does not mention that the serum cells are eliminated during purification.
Whe contacted, a Health Ministry official told BOOM that they have never made any vaccine mandatory and all their communication suggests that vaccination is voluntary. The official added that if India wants to control this pandemic, it is better that people do not get swayed by people spreading misinformation and should come forward to get vaccinated.
Meanwhile several states are now giving travellers the option of carrying certificates showing they are fully vaccinated in lieu of a negative RT-PCR test report. Maharashtra for instance now allows travellers landing in Mumbai airport clear passage if they have a certificate showing they have taken both shots of the vaccine.
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