Vaccines can require animal-derived products such as fetal bovine serum, which is harvested from a pregnant cow fetus when it is slaughtered.
A vaccine is a biological preparation that provides active acquired immunity to a particular infectious disease. It contains either killed or weakened forms of disease-causing bacteria or viruses, or components of these that stimulate a response by the body's immune system, which then protects against the disease's development.
Microorganisms for vaccine manufacture are grown under controlled conditions in the media, which provide the nutrients necessary for growth. Cow components such as fetal bovine serum (FBS) is a common element of animal cell culture and media that is a crucial building block for vaccines. FBS is harvested from bovine fetuses taken from pregnant cows during slaughter. It is commonly extracted through a cardiac puncture without anesthesia, and fetuses are exposed to pain and discomfort.
The FBS extracts are also being used in the development of the COVID-19 vaccine. In India, the first clinical samples of SARS CoV-2 were collected by the ICMR Pune. The clinical specimens of the 12 cases were used for infecting Vero CCL-81 that was supplemented with 10 percent FBS and other components from the HiMedia lab in Mumbai.
Moderna, a messenger RNA (mRNA)-based vaccine that proved to be 95 percent effective in phase 3 of clinical trials, is also supplemented with 10% of FBS, including other elements for developing experimental models in vaccine preparation. Over the years, due to ethical dilemmas and cruelty of this process, some scientists shifted to the use of serum from newborn calves. In this case, blood is collected from the calf within three to 10 days of its birth. The only problem is that by then, the blood develops antibodies that can interfere with lab experiments, so many, including COVID-19 vaccine development, still use FBS.
India imported close to Rs. 2 crore worth of cattle serum products in 2019-20, The Print reported. This year, the imports have significantly increased, with roughly Rs. 1.5 crore worth of such products being imported just between April and June.
In conclusion, even though ethically contested, blood serum is a vital part of biological research.
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.