According to several residents in Bhopal, the People’s College of Medical Sciences and Research Centre recruited them to participate in the clinical trial of a COVID-19 vaccine without giving them requisite information. Phase three human trials for Covaxin—a COVID-19 vaccine developed by Bharat Biotech, a vaccine manufacturer in Hyderabad—are underway across India. All the trial participants in Bhopal that The Caravan spoke to mentioned that representatives of the centre had visited their neighbourhoods looking for volunteers. Some of these residents said they were told that they would get Rs 750 for their time and participation. Some said that they were not told that it was a clinical trial or informed of possible side effects. Seven people told me that they reported serious adverse events after participating in the trial. Most of them are from families that struggle financially and live close to the Union Carbide plant, which was the source of a fatal gas leak in 1984. Some of the trial participants are also survivors of this industrial accident.
Among the participants was Jitendra, a 36-year-old resident of Shankar Nagar area. Jitender said he went to the People’s College of Medical Sciences and Research Centre on 10 December 2020. He said that earlier that day, workers from the college had come to his neighbourhood and made an announcement saying that people would be given a vaccine and some money. “At that time, I just knew they were vaccinating people against COVID-19, and will pay each participant Rs 750, so I thought what’s the harm in going? They took care of the commute to and from the hospital as well,” he said.
When he reached the hospital, he was told that the vaccine being offered was under trial. Jitendra was enrolled in a phase three trial of Covaxin. On 3 January, the Drug Controller General of India, VG Somani, approved Covaxin for “restricted use in emergency situation.” Many public health experts, scientists and activists, questioned this approval as its phase three trial had not been completed and no interim phase three data for it has been published.