An illustration of Dr Gagandeep Kang with vaccine vials in the background. Photos: Twitter and Reuters
India’s top vaccine scientist professor Gagandeep Kang says if European levels of risk of blood clots from AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate – 1 out of 100,000 as per the European Medicines Agency and 1 out of 250,000 as per the British Health Regulator – were to apply to India, we would have a total of 3,000 cases out of our total target of 300 million people to be vaccinated. Put differently, this means out of the 80 million vaccines already given we should have 320 cases. This, Kang, says is a “very small risk” and there is absolutely no need for apprehension.
In a 35-minute interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire, Kang, who is considered India’s top vaccine scientist, did add that in the country, we simply do not have any official information whether there have been worrying blood clots with a low platelet count after taking a dose of the Covishield vaccine, the name under which AstraZeneca’s vaccine candidate is being sold in India.
Kang said it is blood clots in veins in the brain and the abdomen, accompanied by low platelet count, that we need to look out for. She had no doubt that hospitals would have this information, but she did not know if it has reached the government’s adverse events committee or, if it has, what it has done with the data. The committee and the government have simply not said anything at all. There is no transparency at all regarding this matter, Kang said. Later in the interview, she said the government “is trying to do its best.”
Kang told The Wire that it’s not possible that India has given 80 million doses of Covishield but had no cases of blood clotting whatsoever. There are bound to be a few or several cases of people who have had blood clots after getting a jab. That is to be expected. What we need to know is whether these blood clots were accompanied by a low platelet count.
Kang said the government must expeditiously set up an inquiry which must look into this matter in a time bound manner and make its report fully public. Such a committee must include clinical haematologists, specialists in vaccinology and epidemiologists. She also cited the example of the details and full transparency set by Britain’s health regulator as one the Indian system must emulate.
However, Kang added till this committee reports, there is no need for India to follow the British and European example and decide not to give Covishield to particular age groups. She said there is absolutely no doubt the benefits of Covishield far outweigh the very small risks.
Kang said it’s highly unlikely India will stop giving Covishield to any age group. However she added that if it does, supply of vaccines for India’s vaccination programme will be a huge constraint. We simply do not make enough Covaxin to replace Covishield. In this context, Kang also said India must expeditiously clear other vaccines like Sputnik and those developed by Johnson and Johnson and Novavax, the first two of which are already being used internationally.
Finally, at the end of the interview, Kang spelt out in considerable detail the symptoms people who’ve had Covishield should look out for if they are apprehensive of developing blood clots.