Supreme Court Agrees To Hear Plea Over Covishield Side-Effect Concern

AstraZeneca has expressed sympathy for those who have lost loved ones, but reiterated its commitment to patient safety and adherence to "stringent standards to ensure the safe use of all medicines..."

New Delhi:

The Supreme Court will hear a petition on a rare side-effect associated with the COVID-19 vaccine developed jointly by British pharma giant AstraZeneca and Oxford University, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India and sold, in this country, as Covishield. 

A date for the hearing has not been set but Chief Justice DY Chandrachud acknowledged the issue, which includes demands for an expert panel to investigate the side-effect and for the government to provide compensation for families of those who may have died after taking the drug. An early hearing of the petition, though, has been ruled out.

Specifically, the petitioner has demanded the expert panel probe both the side-effect and other potential risks, and that this investigation be monitored by a retired Supreme Court judge. The petition claims instances where those who took the vaccine also became disabled, and wants directions to the government to provide compensation for them too.

Last month AstraZeneca said its vaccine could, in rare cases, cause TTS, or thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome, a condition that leads to blood clots and low platelet count. 

The company is facing class-action lawsuits in the United Kingdom that were triggered by a complaint from Jamie Scott, who claims he suffered a permanent brain injury after a blood clot that formed after he was injected with the vaccine in April 2021.

READ | AstraZeneca Makes Big U-Turn, Admits Covishield Can Cause Rare Side Effects

AstraZeneca initially contested the claim but later told a UK court that "the AZ vaccine can, in very rare cases, cause TTS...".

There are over 50 cases before the courts with claimed damages up to 100 million pounds.

In a statement issued last week AstraZeneca expressed sympathy for those who have lost loved ones or reported health problems, but reiterated its commitment to patient safety and adherence to "stringent standards to ensure the safe use of all medicines..."

READ | "Sympathy Goes Out...": AstraZeneca Amid Side Effects Concerns

News of a possible side-effect of the Covishield vaccine - widely administered in India - have led to concerns, but medical experts and a fact-check by The Healthy Indian Project indicate the claim is only half-true; i.e., while the risk of TTS is true, the probability is "very rare".

Medical experts have pointed out that side-effects are a not uncommon feature of most, if not all, vaccines, even those that have been in use for decades, and these are "usually very minor and of short duration", according to the World Health Organization.

Fact Check | Are Indians Who Got Covishield Vaccine Susceptible To TTS?

Regulatory agencies worldwide, including the WHO, continue to maintain that the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks posed by exceedingly rare side effects.

The Covishield vaccine uses a viral vector platform rather than mRNA technology. 

This vaccine employs a modified chimpanzee adenovirus, ChAdOx1, to transport the COVID-19 spike protein into human cells. While this cold virus cannot effectively infect recipients, it effectively "teaches" the immune system to defend against similar viruses.

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