January 6, 2022
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Good morning. ‘Never mess with Alexa…’ was the lesson learnt by the tech giant Amazon. Amazon’s proud invention, voice-based assistant Alexa recently created a stir after it suggested a little girl’s query for a challenge. It had suggested to “Plug in a phone charger about halfway into a wall outlet, then touch a penny to the exposed prongs,” as per BBC reports. The incident was reported on social media by the girl’s mother. The company authorities fixed the problem as soon as they came to know.
The dangerous activity, known as “the penny challenge”, began circulating on TikTok and other social media websites about a year ago. Hence this suggestion. Well, the perils of AI…
📰 FEATURE STORY
Has the government been transparent on the shelf life of Covid vaccines?
The pandemic has consumed our lives for almost two years at this point. The introduction of vaccines was a breakthrough moment, not just during this pandemic, but given the speed and efficiency of its production, in world history. Even while millions have received their shots worldwide, there’s probably never been as much vaccine misinformation out there.
That being said, there’s a certain level of trust we place in the doctors, scientific community, and the government in administering the vaccines. As we proceed to vaccinate the next-gen population aged 15 to 18 years, their safety is of the utmost importance. However, there have been some concerning reports of expired vaccines being administered in the latest phase of the vaccine drive. But the government has denied it immediately and calls the fears of the public unwarranted.
It’s common practice for us to look at expiration dates for all edible commodities. In the case of medicines, we tend to take utmost care. The aim is to make sure the vaccines are optimally utilised and do not cause any uncalled-for reactions which might get worse than the infection. Also, we don’t want to see any episodes to repeat like the case of Nigeria. The Nigerian officials had to destroy about a million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines as they were beyond their shelf life.
Before arriving at your vaccine centre, the coronavirus vaccine goes through several stages. Manufacturing a vaccine against any virus is complicated, leave alone COVID-19, as Elizabeth Weise and Karen Weintraub outline. Considering the newly found spike protein, it might have taken years. But the scientists weren’t given the privilege of time as the virus was spreading at a rapid pace and killing thousands every day.
As a next step, the vaccines undergo trial after trial on different age groups in various stages over a period of time. The data collected during this phase is then heavily scrutinised. No vaccine can be administered without strict reviews and a regulatory stamp of approval. This is what companies like Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and others have been doing.
Like any medicine, there’s an expiration date to these Covid vaccines. It is to be noted that the vaccines are made up of a complex mixture of proteins, carbohydrates, and inactivated viruses designed to enhance the body’s immune system. Hence the shelf life is a mandate which would be determined by the manufacturer and eventually approved by the regulator after various rigid testing. How’s a shelf life calculated? The shelf life of a vaccine is calculated by storing it at different temperatures for various periods of time. Then its efficacy is tested. The duration over which the vaccine is stable and highly effective becomes the shelf life.
A lack of communication has led to concerns
Concerning any public health issue, like the one we’re collectively living through, proper, authentic communication is vital. Vaccines are the best tool presently available against COVID-19 and its detected variants. A lack of communication will only slow India’s vaccination rate. In many instances, as stated before, there’s a lot of anti-vax information or rather rumours as the government officials mention, freely available. The last thing India needs is a lack of communication on expired vaccines.
It is completely normal for a parent to become anxious about their child’s vaccination shot and it might grow even worse if they hear about expired vaccines. As one parent in Koramangala was quoted saying that she left the private hospital where she went to get her 15-year-old vaccinated. Her apprehension upon finding out that the Covaxin that was to be given was past its expiry date led her to leave and her child to go unvaccinated. Another parent took to social media and posted a note that said the vaccine her son was about to be administered expired in November, 2021.
As of right now, Covaxin is the only vaccine approved for those aged 15-18. It has a shelf life of 12 months. With reports of ‘newly’ extended shelf life, there hasn’t been official communication from the government to the public. No wonder some people are concerned.
Misleading information causing panic
The Health Ministry has assured the public that the vaccines being administered are safe and effective for the approved age groups. In general, no vaccine can be given to the public without regulatory approval. The process is stringent.
In India, the national regulator is the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO). Only after approval from the DCGI (Drugs Controller General of India), any medicine can be rolled out for public use. In reality, as long as a vaccine exhibits stability and has high efficacy per standards, it can be used. Also, these vaccines are being studied over an extended period in real-time. It means scientists now have the advantage to determine if a vaccine’s shelf life can be extended.
Late last year, the shelf life of Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin was extended by the CDSCO to 12 months. This is why Bharat BioTech has started to take up the unused stock of Covaxin and re-label them with the new expiry date. The CDSCO did the same for Covishield by increasing its shelf life to 9 months.
According to Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya, since the vaccines were developed recently, evidence on their efficacy and stability is still evolving globally. As the government said in the wake of concerns on expired vaccines, the information on social media is false and being misinterpreted.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
India’s Diversity Must Never Be Used Against It
For the Left:
West Bengal’s Approach To Industrial Development Under Mamata Banerjee Is Difficult To Identify, Harder To Appreciate
🏴 STATE OF THE STATES
Purchase of genome sequencing machine (Jharkhand) – As COVID cases continue to rise, the state has ordered a whole-genome sequencing machine from US company Illumina. The machine will be installed within 45 days. The cost is more than ₹6 crores and will be installed in the Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS) in Ranchi. The machine is similar to the one installed at the Institute of Life Sciences in Bhubaneswar. The microbiology department at RIMS requested the machine last April. Due to a delay, it was sent to the Centre in June-July.
China building a bridge (Ladakh) – In eastern Ladakh, on the side of Pangong lake, satellite images show China building a bridge. The specific area is on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The bridge will likely link the North and South banks of Pangong lake. At the Galwan valley, near this specific location, Indian and Chinese armies have created a buffer zone following deadly clashes on June 15, 2020. At this site, India has also bolstered its infrastructure development.
Project Mission 100 (Tripura) – Among a slew of new projects launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to the state, Project ‘Mission 100’ of Vidyajyoti schools was one of them. Overall, the aim is to increase the quality of school education in the state. It will be done by converting 100 existing higher secondary schools into modern educational institutions. It will cover about 1.2 lakh students up to class 12. It will cost ₹500 crores and has three tenets – augmenting infrastructure, igniting minds, and blooming children.
No takers for Ramayana course (Madhya Pradesh) – The year-long diploma course in Ramcharitmanas Se Samajik Vikas championed by Assembly Speaker Girish Gautam has found no takers. Despite this, he said he will continue to urge members to take up the course. Dr Jayant Sonwalkar, Vice-chancellor of Bhoj University, said it has well-researched materials that deal with Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and Environmental Science from the couplets of religious scriptures. The university has extended the enrolment date. The fee is ₹3,000.
Saffron scarf vs Hijab row (Karnataka) – The management of the Balagadi first-grade college in Chikmagalur district is in a fix now and have decided to call for a parents meeting as few students retaliated against minority students wearing their traditional attire (Hijab) along with the college uniform. For the unversed, a group of students held a protest on the college premises, requesting the management to permit them to wear saffron scarfs as many minority students are being permitted to wear Hijabs.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
6.19 million kg – Production of Darjeeling tea in 2021. It is the lowest on record per data from the Tea Board. Among the reasons are political agitation, erratic weather, and the pandemic.