An Appeal to Doctors and Medical Scientists on COVID-19

Bharat Dogra

No work can be more noble than the work of saving life. The profession of doctors and medical scientists, as well as the profession of all the other related medical personnel including nurses and community health workers, has therefore been described as the noblest of all professions.

This noblest of all professions has responded to the highly disrupting situation of COVID-19 with quiet determination and hard work, thereby further enhancing the respect from people.

At the same time there are several uncertainties and questions before this noble profession. A vaccine for COVID 19 has been held forth by the most powerful persons as the biggest source of hope. It has been stated time and again by them that while the normal time taken for developing a vaccine is 10 to 15 years this time for COVID-19 all efforts are on board to get this ready in 12 to 18 months, perhaps even earlier. A big question is—can this be done without compromising on safety aspects? After all there are scientific and safety reasons why a vaccine development takes 15 years. To what extent has this scientific reasoning been changed arbitrarily and secretively that the 15 year process gets transformed to 15 months or even less?
In recent years highly disturbing news on safety aspects of vaccines has appeared even in the case of vaccines which had been in the making for a long time. 491000 (almost half a million) extra cases of non-polio acute flaccid paralysis (NPAFP) have been documented in just one country ( India) related to excessive and arbitrary use of OPV technology which was not stopped despite several warning being given. The standing committee on health of the Indian Parliament has exposed the adverse impacts of HPV vaccine on 23000 poor, mostly tribal girls, resulting in some deaths and much larger number of adverse impacts like epileptic seizures and excessive bleeding. The development of dengvexia vaccine involved efforts for about 20 years, yet led to reported death of about 600 children in the Philippines, followed by public protests, indictments, official investigation and ban.

Concerns similar to what figured in this tragedy prompted scientists who had earlier worked on coronavirus vaccine to issue warnings of safety complications and difficulties. Scientists have warned that any new coronavirus could trigger lethal immune reactions ‘vaccine enhancement’ when vaccinated people come in contact with the wild virus. Despite this, there has been a reckless pushing aside of safety aspects, moving to fast track vaccines, without adequate critical animal studies moving into human clinical trials.

What will be the safety implications of such a hurriedly developed vaccine administered to a very large number of people in the near future. Some of the most powerful drivers of this process have been side-by-side pushing not just for compulsory vaccination but also for legal indemnity against lawsuits in the USA and elsewhere, making this a condition for so-called concessions. Doctors and frontline workers have been offered priority in vaccinations, but what about first ensuring safety?

Is too much faith being put in the dubious promise of an uncertain at best vaccine while ignoring other options based on various promising lines of treatment? Who is behind this distortion of public policy? A general precaution is not to put all eggs in one basket, but developing countries are being asked to put all their eggs in a basket owned by others, largely by multinational companies and billionaires  dressed up as philanthropists, known to be involved in several well-documented serious safety violations in the past, resulting in thousands of avoidable deaths and several hundred thousand cases of serious side-effects.

Apart from safety there is the question of costs and allocation of scarce resources. The general pattern so far has been to make dubious and expensive products acceptable by giving concessions and aid initially in which billionaires and international agencies dominated by them are involved along with manufacturing companies. But this aid comes with conditions which compromise the entire health sector in the coming years and can lead to a serious misallocation of limited health budgets to feed high private profit agencies on a longer-term basis.

Already many doctors are seriously worried about the disruption of treatment for serious diseases like tuberculosis, cancer, heart disease etc. as well as for several other serious diseases and conditions. They have a strong feeling that a better balance should have been maintained so that other serious diseases and conditions continued to get the necessary care along with COVID-19. In fact, some very senior medical scientists and doctors all over the world have spoken clearly that the mortality rate for COVID-19 was overestimated leading to an unbalanced and exaggerated response, resulting in draconian measures which disrupted livelihoods and food security and hence also aggravated the health situation. They have repeatedly said that panic and draconian measures based on panic are not justified, only essential precautions and a balanced response are needed, while protecting livelihoods and food security of people.

Hence this is a very important time for doctors, medical scientists and health personnel (and their groups, networks and organizations) to add to the nobility of their profession by preparing and issuing statements that can help to guide badly worried humanity in these disturbed times. Their role of guidance in evolving and pursuing an evidence and reason based balanced response will be very helpful for reducing tensions and distress among ordinary people and their vigilance on vaccine safety front can be a great help in averting a future calamity.

Bharat Dogra is Convener Save the Earth Now Campaign. He was the first Convener of the National Campaign on People’s Right to Information, former Chairperson of Jan Hith Trust and former Chairperson of AAA program for homeless people. He has been writing regularly for 48 years on public interest issues in English and Hindi, resulting in about 9000 published articles and around 400 books/booklets. His writing work emphasizing peace, justice and environment protection and reports from remote villages has been recognized in the form of nearly 40 awards and fellowships. He has written biographies of India’s freedom fighters and profiles of people’s movements. Latest books include Protecting Earth for Children, Planet in Peril, Man Over Machine (on Gandhian thinking), Sachai Ki Kasam (Truth above All—Hindi short story collection) and Kathin Daur Mein Ummeed (Hope in Difficult Times-- Hindi poetry collection).

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May 13, 2020

Bharat Dogra

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