Radha Balmiki, 40, a mendicant, is one of the many residents of Bhopal’s Shankar Nagar where a large number of victims of the Union Carbide gas tragedy reside.
Balmiki, as well as other residents of the colony, had turned to People's College of Medical Sciences, a private hospital, on being told that they would be provided Rs 750 and free medical check-up. Allegedly, many did not know that they were being paid to be a part of the ongoing phase-3 trials of Covaxin by Bharat Biotech.
Much like Balmiki, Jitendra Narvariya, Hari Singh Gond and Chota Das Bairagi – all residents of Shankar Nagar – became a part of the ongoing trial after a vehicle roaming the narrow bylanes of their locality assured free treatment for cold, cough, arthritis with various tests were being conducted for free at the nearby Peoples’ Hospital.
They all rushed to the hospital where they were told that it was for a trial but weren’t provided much clarity on what vaccine was being tried on them. Further, they were were assured that it would not cause any side effects and if in case it does happen, they can reach out to the hospital.
NDTV reports that the hospital is located at a mere half km distance from “poorest and worst 1984 gas tragedy-affected communities”, and that the hospital allegedly reached out to people living in these areas.
The Covaxin Trial at a Bhopal Hospital
The phase-3 trial of Covaxin, started in Bhopal in the last week of November at People’s Hospital where 1000 volunteers are to be given the first shot of the vaccine. The indigenous vaccine Covaxin is being developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
Talking to The Quint, Balmiki claimed that after getting into the hospital, they took her blood samples and the doctor took her thumb impression on a paper and gave her the first shot on 6 December.
According to Balmiki, after the check-ups, a doctor asked her profession and family background. She was later sent to another cabin where she was injected and asked to tick in a diary in case any health issues arose later. She was also provided with a cheque of Rs 750.
Differing from this process, the ICMR guidelines, however, state the volunteers are to be counselled first, followed by medical tests and provided with a signed copy of the consent forms.
“Neither did they brief me about the COVID vaccine trial nor did they give me any consent form, but I’m totally okay,” she said.
Two days after Balmiki’s neighbour, Chota Das Bairagi, 25 got the Covaxin shot, he received a phone call from the hospital saying ‘you have been tested COVID-19 positive’ and asking him to come to hospital.
“I rushed to the hospital and they prescribed me a slew of medicines, saying I should purchase it from the medical shop and stay at home. The cost of the medicine was around Rs 700-800, so I didn’t purchase it and simply returned home,” said Bairagi.
Bairagi also reported cough, fever and pain in the spinal cord days after getting the first shot, although a direct connection between his ailments and the shot is yet to be established.
Social activist, Nasreen, working with Gas-hit survivors claimed that out of the 1,000 people who were the part of the Covaxine trial in Bhopal, nearly 70-80 % of the volunteers are from gas-hit colonies such as Shankar Nagar, Timer market, Udiya Basti, Garib Nagar, JP Nagar and Shiv Shakti Nagar.
“Every law in the rule book to conduct the Covaxin trial has been overlooked in Bhopal. First they lured the marginalised class by offering free medical check up and Rs 750. Later, dozens of participants of the trial have complained that neither they have been briefed up about the COVID-19 vaccine trial nor they have been given a signed copy of consent form,” claimed Rachna Dhingra of Bhopal Action for information group.
Just like Bairagi, Jitendra Narvariya, a resident of Timber market and sole breadwinner of family of five fell ill two days after getting shot of Covaxin shot on 10 December.
He rushed to the hospital where he had been told to conduct an X-Ray and another text which costs Rs 450.
“I had no money to conduct another test prescribed by the doctor because I have already spent Rs 150 on X-Ray. Hence, I returned home.”Jitendra Narvariya
It has been a month since Narvariya has been down with typhoid, fever, cough and vomiting. He blames the vaccine for his current condition.
It must be mentioned, however, that the thrid phase of Covaxin trials are still underway and there is no report yet establishing a direct connection between Narvariya’s condition and the vaccine.
In another case, Hari Singh Gond, a labour, who received two shots of Covaxin on 7 December and 4 January 2021 respectively, was given a signed copy of consent form after his second shot at the hospital for Covaxin.
What the Hospital Said
While talking to The Quint, the Dean of the People’s Hospital, AK Dixit, on his part, brushed aside any claim of sending a vehicle into the colonies and luring people with free health check-ups.
“Neither any vehicle had been sent nor any pamphlet distributed for announcement made to lure people. We have formed a team to spread the word for the trial within a radius of 4 kms of the hospital and all the protocols have been followed,” said AK Dixit.
He further said:
“Till date we have registered 1,750 people from all sections of the society. And we are taking care of the participants who feel ill after getting the covaxine shot.”
When asked about giving consent form to the participants, he replied: “As per the guidelines, we have been asked to hand over the consent from to participants if they demand, else we won’t give it. But we are giving the consent form to those who are coming for the second shot of the vaccine.”
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