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Published: 2021-02-28 07:44 am
They thought they were being vaccinated. It was a trial.
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A version of this story appeared in the February 26 edition of CNN's Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction newsletter. Sign up here to receive the need-to-know headlines every weekday.

(CNN)The offer seemed too good to refuse: "Come and take the coronavirus vaccine and get 750 rupees."

Residents of the slum areas of the central Indian city of Bhopal, who recalled hearing about the offer back in December, said they scrambled to take it up. 750 rupees ($10) is about twice what they'd usually earn for a day's hard labor.

"They told us it is the corona vaccine and we should get it so that we don't fall sick," said Yashoda Bai Yadav, a housewife from Bhopal who participated in the trial alongside her husband.

But they say they later discovered from local activists that some of them hadn't been given an approved vaccine. Instead, they had unwittingly taken part in a clinical trial for India's homegrown vaccine, Covaxin. Only half of the participants in Covaxin's Phase 3 trial received a vaccine -- the other half received a placebo, a normal part of clinical trials.

One participant, Radha Aherwar, only found out it was possible she got a placebo while speaking to CNN, saying, "Oh, so what I got wasn't a vaccine? I didn't know that there was a possibility you could get a water shot."

Their experience suggests the medical team from People's Hospital, which was running the trial, may have failed to adequately explain that they were part of a trial and that only some of the participants would receive a vaccine. Both alleged lapses, if proven true, appear to violate India's clinical trial rules that require informed consent from all participants.

The study was sponsored by the vaccine's developers, Indian biotech company Bharat Biotech and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). Bharat Biotech, ICMR and People's Hospital have all denied wrongdoing.

It also raises questions about the quality of data in the trial. Experts such as Amar Jesani, the editor of the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics, worry that this could lead to vaccine hesitancy among some groups in India.

YOU ASKED. WE ANSWERED

Q: I'm pregnant. Should I get the Covid-19 vaccine?

A: We asked CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen for her advice. Wen is not only an emergency physician and public health expert; she's also a mother to a 3-year-old son and a 10-month-old girl who was born during the pandemic.

Here's what she said: "Based on what we know of the vaccine, there is no reason to believe that it will have a detrimental effect on the pregnancy or the long-term health of either the mother or baby. Lack of evidence doesn't mean it can't exist, but this kind of theoretical very low risk needs to be weighed against the real and potentially very high risk of a severe outcome from Covid-19."

Read Wen's full guidance here.

Send your questions here. Are you a health care worker fighting Covid-19? Message us on WhatsApp about the challenges you're facing: +1 347-322-0415.

WHAT'S IMPORTANT TODAY

Big day for Johnson & Johnson's vaccine

US Food and Drug Administration vaccine advisers are scheduled to meet Friday to discuss the potential emergency authorization of a third coronavirus vaccine for the US, this one made by Johnson & Johnson's vaccine arm Janssen Biotech.

Its authorization could help speed up the vaccination rollout across the country. President Joe Biden on Thursday commemorated 50 million Covid-19 vaccine doses administered since he took office, using it as a measuring stick against his promise to put 100 million shots in people's arms in his first 100 days. But he also warned there's "a long way to go" before life will return to normal.

Covid restrictions forced Russian diplomats to leave North Korea on a hand-pushed rail trolley

Eight employees of Russia's embassy in Pyongyang and their families spent more than 34 hours trying to leave North Korea this week, a grueling trip that ended with at least one diplomat pushing his luggage and young children on a railway trolley into Russian territory.

North Korea's borders have been effectively locked down for months as part of Kim Jong Un's efforts to keep Covid-19 at bay, stranding the few diplomats operating inside the country. The labyrinthine journey was the only way the Russian diplomats and their families could leave, the Russian embassy said on its verified Facebook page.

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Arthritis drugs can help critically ill Covid-19 patients, study suggests

Drugs typically used to treat rheumatoid arthritis can help critically ill Covid-19 patients in intensive care units, one new study finds. The drugs reduce inflammation and doctors hope they can help patients recover from the overwhelming immune response that Covid-19 sometimes triggers.

But experts warn that more research is needed before doctors start using the drugs more widely. Another new study found that a similar drug did not help patients hospitalized with Covid-19 pneumonia get significantly better. The two studies were published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Thursday.

ON OUR RADAR

  • Britain's Queen Elizabeth II says those refusing vaccines "ought to think about other people rather than themselves."
  • South Korea began its vaccine rollout on Friday as health authorities extended current social distancing measures and bans on gatherings of five or more people until March 14.
  • US officials in China have asked local authorities to refrain from subjecting US staff in the country to Covid-19 anal swabs, according to a US diplomat based in China.
  • Athletes are being encouraged to get vaccinated against Covid-19 ahead of the Tokyo Olympics but it will not be compulsory, IOC Vice President John Coates said on Thursday.
  • The Thai government has introduced a "golf quarantine" program to boost its ailing tourism sector.

TOP TIP

Heading to the gym? Wear a mask.

Wearing masks and other safety precautions are key to stopping the spread of Covid-19 during indoor group exercise, according to two new reports published by the US Centers for Disease and Prevention. The two studies, published Wednesday, linked Covid-19 outbreaks over the summer to exercise facilities in Chicago and Honolulu.

In the Chicago report, 60% of people who attended in-person fitness classes at one facility between August 24 and September 1 tested positive for Covid-19. Another 7% of attendees reported symptoms consistent with the disease.

TODAY'S PODCAST

"Frankly, when the United States provides resources and gets out of the way, the Cherokee Nation does a wonderful job of delivering health care." -- Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr.

Covid-19 has disproportionately hit Native American communities, but when it comes to vaccine distribution, tribal health providers are actually outpacing many states. CNN's Harmeet Kaur speaks with Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr. about his tribe's vaccine success. Listen now.

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