COVID-19 deaths are recorded following ICMR guidelines based on clinical evidence. This is an attempt by anti-vaxxers to discredit the vaccine drive.
On May 24, 2021, the Network of Influenza Care Experts (NICE), reportedly with the consent of 161 doctors across India, wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, stating that there is no evidence to prove deaths occurred due to COVID-19. The letter mainly argues that the RT-PCR test is inconclusive as it can only detect the coronavirus's genetic material. It further asserts that it is incorrect to label the deaths as COVID-19 related as other bacterias or viruses may also cause symptoms similar to that of the coronavirus. To support their argument, NICE cited an Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) guideline published by the Himachal Pradesh government to show that deaths have been falsely labeled as COVID-19 related. The doctors also asked the government to stop the vaccination drive and remove all COVID-19 curbs.
Such arguments are baseless and are not backed by any valid clinical evidence. According to ICMR guidelines, COVID-19 related deaths are classified into various categories such as suspected COVID-19 death, clinically epidemiologically diagnosed COVID-19, the underlying cause of death, etc., based on the clinical records of the deceased. These are just the criteria followed by the ICMR to document the cause of death involving COVID-19 appropriately and do not mean that the patients did not die of COVID-19. The ICMR and National Centre for Disease Informatics (NCRI) acknowledge the significance of recording the cause of death as patterns of disease and death can only be examined by the standardized recording of clinical disease history and cause of death. Therefore epidemiological surveillance of disease and death is essential and is being conducted in India.
India has recorded over three lakh deaths due to COVID-19 as of June 17, 2021.
Furthermore, most of the doctors who reportedly signed this letter are BAMS (Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery) qualified where some of them have a history of carrying out anti-vaccine campaigns in India.
Dr. Amar Singh Azad, the convener of the NICE, was booked in 2018 for campaigning against the measles-rubella vaccines. Dr. Biswaroop Roy Chowdhury, a co-convener of the NICE, is a staunch anti-vaccine campaigner, COVID-19 denier, and anti masker. Vice.com cited a report which showed Chowdhury misquoting a study by the New England Journal of Medicine by saying that the fatality rate of COVID-19 was 0.1 percent and can be "cured" with a proper diet. Chowdhury's social media accounts were taken down after multiple petitions were filed against his anti-vaccine and COVID-19 hoaxes in 2020. BBC also quoted him saying that deaths did not occur due to COVID-19 but were due to the treatment given to patients. He even declared that COVID-19 was "just like normal flu."
Thus it is evident that the letter is not a valid concern by doctors but instead is an effort by anti-vaccine and COVID-19 denier activists trying to discredit and downplay the vaccination drive and the COVID-19 pandemic in India.
The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to a lot of potentially dangerous misinformation. For reliable advice on COVID-19, including symptoms, prevention, and available treatment, please refer to the World Health Organization or your national healthcare authority.