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The Vaccine War: A Technical Review


On 28 Sep 2023, the movie The Vaccine War by Vivek Agnihotri was released internationally, as the story behind India’s Covid-19 vaccine development. While there will be many a review written, as for other movies, a technical review is important, as the film is supposed to be fact-based, on the science and scientists behind the science. This write-up is such a technical review.

“The Vaccine War:” The Good

Let us first list the several things which it got right.

  1. Choice of vaccine technology: The movie explains that Covaxin chose the traditional vaccine technology of inactivated virus, rather than the untested mRNA platform. The mRNA platform also would have required sub-zero temperatures during storage and rollout, which would have caused a logistical nightmare. So this was the right choice for the right technical reason.
  2. Keeping Pfizer out of India: The movie commends the government of India for keeping Pfizer out of India, and this praise is well-deserved. Pfizer is one of the most corrupt pharmaceutical giants, having paid billions of dollars in fines. Pfizer’s arm-twisting of other governments has come to light recently, and it is not pretty.
  3. The CCP-WHO nexus: The film rightly criticizes the WHO as being influenced by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Indeed, the WHO has throughout praised the CCP for its “commitment to transparency.” If anyone asked you for a government which is transparent, CCP/China would likely be the last on your mind, whereas WHO has praised CCP for its transparency!
  4. Social media censorship: The movie is spot-on in pointing out that social media censorship was rife. The possibility that SARS-CoV-2 came from a lab leak was (and is) heavily censored in social media platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc. The US government has been coercing these platforms to engage in such censorship. Recently, the US government was even directed by a US court to stop coercing the social media companies to do censorship.
  5. Media as the problem: The film’s portrayal of media as the problem during Covid-19 response is right, although not remotely in the way depicted in the film.

The caveats

In the list above, a few quick caveats are in order, with details following subsequently.

  1. Although the choice of traditional vaccine technology was right, Covaxin used a brand new adjuvant (stimulator to boost immune response) called alhydroxiquim.
  2. Although Pfizer was kept out of India, Covishield (AstraZeneca) was widely used, which used an even worse technology (DNA and adenovirus vector based).
  3. While CCP is secretive and authoritarian, India and indeed the world copied CCP’s authoritarian method in terms of lockdown.
  4. Government-directed social media censorship has been rife not only for the lab-leak possibility, but also for all the elements of the official Covid-19 response including questioning vaccine safety and efficacy.
  5. The film portrays media as being anti-Indian-vaccine, while the truth is that most media has been blindly pro-any-and-all-Covid-vaccines.

“The Vaccine War:” The Bad and The Ugly

I – Gross Exaggeration of Disease Threat

The mainstream Covid-19 narrative runs: there is a novel virus which is deadly to one and all. This narrative is wildly inaccurate, does not pass the basic common sense test, and the film furthers this inaccuracy throughout. The film shows six children as having died in a ठेला (hand-cart used by fruit vendors), which became their grave. Dr. Sreelakshmy Mohandas is shown as having a panic attack screaming “We are all going to die.” Dr Pragya Yadav remarks “No vaccine, no life” in an exhausted state. 

A perfectly healthy child is shown walking into an ambulance, accosted by two men in full PPE, while Dr Priya Abraham (Head of NIV Pune) watches on with tears in her eyes. A young lady is depicted as having died of Covid in hospital, as is Mr Bahadur, a young employee of ICMR. The movie even shows the early fake videos from China, with people on the street dropping dead from Covid-19: something not seen anywhere in the world. (Such sudden deaths due to heart attacks and brain haemorrages have been happening for non-Covid reasons, after the vaccine rollout, which ICMR has not dared to probe).

This apocalyptic and age-agnostic Covid-19 fear-mongering is at odds with real-world data. Europe’s data shows that there was no statistically relevant excess death among under-65, before or after the vaccine rollout. USA’s data shows that most of the excess death among under-45 was due to non-Covid reasons, likely due to lockdown, depression, anxiety, or even vaccine adverse events. 

The entire country of Scotland had zero Covid deaths among 450,000 medical personnel, teachers, shop workers, and police officers of working age. In no-lockdown no-mask Sweden, there was no pandemic of note for any age-group. And Dharavi (slum in Mumbai), the polar opposite of Sweden, had even lesser per-capita Covid deaths, and did not even have a second wave!

The exaggerated fear-mongering has been a central component of the push for universal Covid vaccines, including for children. Combine this with ICMR’s financial conflict of interest, and the film is nothing but fear-mongering propaganda for profit.

II – Denial of Immunity after Natural Infection

At the end of India’s second wave, in July 2021, only about 10 percent of Indians were vaccinated, but the majority had been exposed to the virus already, as shown by a serological survey study. Immunity after natural infection and recovery is known science for more than 2,400 years since the plague of Athens. Indeed, such immunity is the basis of India’s inactivated virus vaccine technology. Therefore, there was no need to vaccinate India’s population after July 2021. Thus ICMR’s support for mass vaccination after July 2021 cannot be explained by known virology, but only by the financial conflict of interest.

III – The “Foreign Vaccine Not Approved” Strawman

The entire movie revolves around the villain journalist Rohini Singh asking “Why not approve a foreign vaccine?” But the fact is: a foreign vaccine was indeed approved. Covishield is nothing but Oxford’s AstraZeneca repackaged. And Covishield was used by nearly 80 percent of Indians! So India’s Covaxin actually lost the “war” of competition. There is exactly one line in the entire movie which whitewashes this glaring inconsistency, with Dr Balram Bhargava claiming absurdly that “we consider Covishield as our own.” The reader should pause and think about the magnitude of absurdity here.

IV – The Claim of Immunity = Antibodies

The movie shows the scientists at NIV (Pune) celebrating the fact that Covaxin generated a good antibody response. This mimics the basic immunology mistake in the worldwide push for Covid vaccines, where immunity is equated with antibodies. Several prior vaccine candidates for other viral diseases were rejected after long-term follow-up, since they led to worse disease outcome, even though they showed good antibody response, e.g. RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) vaccine candidates in 1969, and more recently Dengvaxia for Dengue in 2016.

An entire team of virologists making such a basic error in immunology cannot be explained by science, and is nothing to be proud of.

V – Dishonesty about Waning Efficacy

Toward the end of the movie, Dr Abraham is shown citing numbers on Covaxin efficacy. This lends an air of science and rigour. There is a small problem however: the results are from data collected prior to May 2021, published as interim results in Nov 2021. Interim results, with less than 5 months of follow-up. It is incredible that this paper should be cited in late 2023, about 2.5 years after that study! 

Where are the current results with longer term follow-up?

One does not need to look far to guess why more recent results have not been cited in the movie (even in the final few slides giving current information). The 77.8 percent efficacy did not hold up even in the real world: another study also published in Nov 2021 showed a much lower 50 percent efficacy. The waning efficacy of all Covid-19 vaccines is known, not just against infection, but also against hospitalization. Covishield (AstraZeneca)’s efficacy wanes to negative in six months.

Thus, the numbers cited by Dr Abraham in the movie is tantamount to intellectual dishonesty, to delude the public with pseudo-science.

VI – Rejection of Alternative Cures

The film shows the group of scientists momentarily discussing possible solutions to the (exaggerated) Covid problem. They discuss only vaccines and reject any alternative cures. This is an accurate reflection of what happened in reality. The analogy of मछली की आँख (fish’s eye – object of single-minded focus) used in the movie is also accurate. The problem is that in science, such blindness to alternative approaches is a pitfall, not a virtue. The movie’s depiction of this blindness is thus an indictment of, not praise for ICMR’s scientists.

VII – Inadvertent Explanations for Second Wave Medical Stampede

The movie explains, although inadvertently, as to why India had a medical stampede during the second wave.

As mentioned earlier, the film shows a perfectly healthy child climbing into an ambulance, with the Head of NIV (Pune) watching on. Presumably, the child had tested positive in the PCR test. It is common knowledge (documented here) that most of the PCR +ves were “asymptomatic,” i.e. perfectly healthy people. How many hospital beds were occupied by such perfectly healthy people? Why did ICMR/NIV not message clearly that such healthy people need not panic? What role did such panic have in unnecessary deaths?

The movie depicts that in the second wave, 70 percent of the doctors in a hospital were out of commission due to Covid. How much role did the PCR test have to play in this? Perhaps many of those doctors already had Covid and recovered? During the plague of Athens in 430 BC, people recognized that those who had already recovered and thus had strong natural immunity can take care of the ill. If only ICMR had learnt this history and immunology lesson, perhaps the hospital crunch would have been less severe?

The movie also glorifies the use of ventilators. Many lives were lost needlessly due to panicked overuse of ventilators in New York, a folly realized only in late 2020.

The movie thus documents, although inadvertently, the monumental blunders committed by our scientists in causing the medical stampede in Apr-Jun 2021.

VIII – Vaccine Safety Swept Under the Rug

Scientists are shown in the movie discussing that it will take several years to develop a vaccine. Most of the delay is attributed to red-tapism and the movie glorifies in its summary that Covaxin was developed in a record seven months time. Similar rhetoric and chest-thumping has also been done for “foreign” vaccines – developing “vaccines” at the speed of science.

This is all empty rhetoric as this necessarily needs sweeping vaccine safety under the rug. Safety monitoring takes time. This is not rocket science but common sense. For instance, safety monitoring on pregnant women takes at least 9 months if not a few years after birth. Checking whether the product has carcinogenic effects or effects on the reproductive system takes several years. All such safety concerns have been swept under the rug, for not just India’s Covaxin, but globally. 

The increased heart attacks around the world, including in India, are unmistakably time-correlated with the rollout of the Covid vaccines, with red flags showing since early 2021. An important case study has demonstrated as to how cardiac issues can arise even several months after Covid vaccination-induced myocarditis. However, ICMR has been dragging its feet in coming out with data on this, implicating or exonerating the novel Covid vaccines.

All the varieties of Covid vaccines are known to cause blood clotting and cardiac issues, including Covaxin and Covishield. Covishield (AstraZeneca) has been so bad that several European countries stopped its usage for young people as early as Apr 2021.

Thus on the aspect of vaccine safety, the movie is an indictment of gross negligence by Indian scientists, not something to be proud of.

IX – On the Numbers Behind Covaxin for Children

The level of gross negligence is especially glaring when it comes to children. Covaxin, the vaccine celebrated in the movie, is the one used for children under 18. However, the number of trial participants in the Covaxin under-18 trial is a meagre 525. Anyone with minimal knowledge of statistics can tell that such a small sample size cannot possibly find efficacy or safety. Anyone with common sense can tell that there was no Covid-19 problem for children in the first place!

X – Is Covaxin a Celebration of Women?

The movie is stated as a celebration of women scientists. While no one can grudge the dedication and hard work of women scientists, using Covid vaccines for such celebration is an irony and a great disservice. A recent publication has documented how a large percentage of women experienced vaginal bleeding after Covid vaccination. A study published a year back documented Covaxin as the worst in terms of menstruation disturbances.

XI – Follow the Science, Wear a Mask

Like all official aspects of the Covid-19 response, the movie glorifies universal mask-wearing, even among children. In one scene, Dr Abraham reminds a gardener boy in NIV (Pune) to pull up his mask. Two children are even shown wearing masks made of leaves in the forests of Nagpur.

The scientific evidence for mask-wearing has always been weak. The highest form of scientific evidence is considered to be a randomised controlled trial (RCT). A meta-analysis of RCTs published in the Cochrane review in Jan 2023 concludes “Wearing masks in the community probably makes little or no difference to the outcome of influenza‐like illness (ILI)/COVID‐19 like illness compared to not wearing masks.” Furthermore, several harms of mask-wearing, including germ growth, physical, and psychological issues are documented, especially among children. And yet there is a cult-like adherence to mask-wearing, with unwillingness to interpret the scientific evidence.

In the movie, Dr Balram Bhargava announces “This war can only be won by science,” and immediately everyone dons a mask. This scene shall go down as the most false glorification of the method of science.

XII – The Whitewashing of Human/Child Right Violations

The lockdown response to Covid-19 has been the single biggest human and child right violation since World War II. This was driven by exaggerated apocalyptic fears of the social-media class, with utter disregard for the working class. Millions of people were rendered jobless by the lockdown. The sheer horror of millions of migrant labourers walking along with their family and children for hundreds of kilometres shall be etched in memory. 

But the movie has only a brief section on lockdown, which also completely glosses over the immense horror of it on India’s poor and children. Lockdown has been shown in several scientific studies to have no effect on Covid spread. In a country where nearly two thousand infants die every day of poverty and malnutrition related preventable reasons, lockdown and school closures were not only intellectually dishonest but also morally abhorrent. Here too, the depiction in the movie of Dr Bhargava as having recommended lockdown is an indictment, not praise.

After having recommended lockdown, which wiped out two years of school education for 260 million Indian children, adding to the already 10 million-strong child labour force, the movie adds copious amounts of salt to the children’s fresh wounds by depicting child labour in a positive light. There is a child shown working as a gardener in NIV (Pune). How did this get past the movie screening board?

Yet another mass violation of human rights glossed over by the movie has to do with the extreme coercion and mandates in the vaccine rollout. The unconstitutional nature of the mandates was established in the Supreme Court of India in its ruling on 02 May 2022. India’s Covaxin was especially used as a weapon in unconstitutional violation of child rights by several states, by mandating the experimental product for school children! This is nothing to be proud of for the scientists who developed Covaxin.


The movie is problematic right in its name. A person gets to be called a doctor only after successfully passing her medical degree. Likewise, a product gets to be called a vaccine only after successful completion of trials. However, there is no completed trial data, for any of the Covid-19 vaccine candidates: for the products used in India or anywhere else in the world. Therefore the term “vaccine” for the experimental Covid-19 injections is an achievement of propaganda, not of science. The movie serves to further this propaganda.

There are several crowning achievements of Indian scientists over the ages, which Indians can be rightfully proud of: ranging from zero (literally) to Ramanujam’s breathtaking mathematical genius to the recent strides in rocket science (also literal). Covid-19 vaccine development and rollout is most emphatically not among them.

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  • Bhaskaran Raman

    Bhaskaran Raman is a faculty in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at IIT Bombay. Views expressed here are his personal opinion. He maintains the site: “Understand, Unclog, Unpanic, Unscare, Unlock (U5) India” . He can be reached via twitter, telegram: @br_cse_iitb .

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