‘The Vaccine War’ Ending Explained & Movie Summary: How Did The Scientists Debunk The Fake News?

Director Vivek Agnihotri is known for presenting stories that seem to be hard-hitting on the surface, but at core, they lack basic sensitivity. None of the subjects are handled with care, and it’s not long before the narrative becomes brash, loud, and dramatic. The same could be said about The Vaccine War, which is based on the book Going Viral by Prof. Balram Bhargava of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). The book and the film talk about the creation of the first indigenous vaccine made by Indian scientists for COVID-19 and the accusations received from the media regarding the authenticity of the final product. This article will describe the sequence of events that led to the formation of a team that created the vaccine for their countrymen.

Spoilers Ahead


What Was The Speculation Regarding Virus’ Origin?

The Vaccine War begins with Professor Balram coming across news of rising pneumonia cases in Wuhan, China. This was the genesis of COVID-19 in the year 2019, and it makes sense for the ICMR chief, Prof. Balram, to worry about this phenomenon in the neighboring country. Professor Balram and his colleagues at ICMR were speculating over the Wuhan Seafood Market Theory as released by Chinese officials to the world and WHO. Many of them found loopholes in the Wuhan seafood market theory. The officials of ICMR have an alternate theory: a lab leak that could cause rampant fever-like cases.

A frenzy was bound to erupt in a neighboring nation. One would have to worry about the possibility of a biowar against India, and that theory could not be ignored. Several other reports gathered by ICMR officials also claimed that the same virus was found in two bats in Zhoushan, and the research on it was done by the Chinese military. The distressing part of the narrative was the inability to locate patient zero in China. A meeting with the WHO concerning the same matter led to a deadlock because they were willing to agree to every report coming from China without investigating it as the Indian officials had recommended.


What Led To The Idea Of Creating A Vaccine?

The doctors at the ICMR and the National Institute of Virology, Pune, were able to track the first case of the COVID-19 virus in Kerala, and on testing, they found out the virus could mutate and might form into other deadly variants as well. One of the leading doctors of NIV, Dr. Pragya Yadav, and the director of the same institute, Dr. Priya Abraham, were able to locate the COVID-19 virus from the sample sent by the infected patient who’d traveled from Wuhan. Though the virologists were happy with the discovery, their achievement was bad news for the population. This means an outbreak is inevitable, and the country will have to gear up for the calamity. The medical team will have to prepare for an increase in infected patients, but the media does not trust the medical infrastructure. The face of Indian media in The Vaccine War is Rohini Dhulia, who seems to be questioning every move of the ICMR and the government.

While the scientists of ICMR and NIV are worried about thwarting the media narrative of the medical and scientific community of the country, Prof. Balram proposed the idea of manufacturing a ‘killer virus vaccine’ in India for the countrymen. There are logistical issues presented, but Prof. Balram was willing to start the work. All the scientists rallied behind him because the man had the confidence to pull this off without making much noise about it. Prof. Balram was a pragmatic man who wanted to see results and was keen to make this a reality without going to the media or talking explicitly about it.


What Happened In Iran?

India planned to send a team of doctors and scientists to Iran to set up a lab for testing and bringing back stranded Indians safely. This was a strenuous task, as many male staff members of the NIV were unwilling to make this trip, but the female staff volunteered. The ICMR and NIV were initially against sending women to Iran, but Prof. Balram did not consider any job to be gender-specific, encouraged the female staff, and gave them the green flag from his end. Sadly, their trip was delayed because NIV and ICMR did not have enough funding to pay for the additional luggage that was being sent to Iran with the officials. This situation was shown to demonstrate the lack of funding from the government to carry out basic survival missions for their citizens. Though the mission was a success thanks to the Indian Air Force, it briefly put ICMR and NIV on the back foot.


What Were The Struggles Faced In Creating A Vaccine?

ICMR wanted a sample of the virus that could be isolated in the NIV lab to understand the nature of the entity. The vaccine could be built based on how it functions. The teams at ICMR and NIV were initially struggling to separate the virus, but soon they found a solution and were successful. The reason behind the success of this operation was the team effort and encouragement from Prof. Balram, who made sure the entire machinery was well-oiled so that the vaccine was rolled out as per the deadline. The team had a shortage of lab-specific monkeys for testing that could help them understand the effectiveness of the vaccine. The team found the animal after a strenuous process. The monkeys were showing signs of recovery after being given a dose of the new vaccine produced by ICMR, NIV, and Bharat Biotech.

The doctors and the scientists had a tough time being a part of the process of trials, as many of them had not gone home or slept for days. All of these were happening amidst the lockdown. Many of the scientists were struggling to hold themselves together because of the pressure of making the trial a success. This does seem like setting a bad precedent, but as The Vaccine War film describes, the COVID years were a warzone, and everyone working was dubbed a warrior. Both ICMR and NIV were facing backlash from journalist Rohini Dhulia regarding the authenticity of the vaccine and how effective it could be. Rohini Dhulia had received a toolkit from one of the lobbyists of a pharma company to question the quality of the vaccine produced in India. This implied that the country could not produce an effective vaccine that could cater to millions. Though Dr. Priya of NIV wanted to offer clarity and stand by the tireless work they have been doing, Rohini was in no mood to give them a chance.


Was The Vaccine A Success?

COVAXIN, the first vaccine developed by Indian scientists and doctors in the bare minimum time, was a huge deal and a success initially. Rohini Dhulia was hell-bent on spreading false news and questioning the quality of the vaccine. This narrative was gaining traction as well. Even though Dr. Priya was able to crack the nexus that was backing Rohini, Prof. Balram was not keen on the media trail. He was willing to take the legal route to erase this message.

The vaccine helped curb the delta variant, which wreaked havoc in the country when the second wave hit. There was also a peek into how the officials of the ICMR and NIV witnessed the loss of their loved ones and acquaintances to the delta wave. The vaccine rollout happened on time, but that could stop the deadly virus from putting the nation in misery. Rohini Dhulia was also humiliated for wanting to let the world know about the rampant deaths because of the shortage of beds and oxygen at the peak of the pandemic. As a media person, she was only doing her job by showing the real picture of how citizens were being neglected, and the government was underselling the seriousness of the situation. Rohini stood by her job and never allowed herself to be questioned by any authority figure. 


Were The Scientists At ICMR Able To Debunk The Fake News?

Thanks to Rohini and many news outlets that pander to her kind of narrative, COVAXIN was slowly getting rejected after an initial success. They were also not approved by the WHO, which meant every Indian citizen who had taken COVAXIN was stopped at the airport. To put an end to this blatant discrimination by the WHO, the entire ICMR and NIV agreed to hold a press conference. They believe they were being bullied by pharma companies to open its doors for foreign vaccines. This narrative was added to make the pharmaceutical companies villains in the scenario and give credit to a locally produced vaccine.

Though the intention was right about the WHO playing favorites, the idea of demeaning India on the global stage was a far-fetched narrative that was used in The Vaccine War at plenty of junctures. The scientists and the doctors of the ICMR and NIV were frustrated with the belittling of their hard work, and rightly so. They dedicated hours and sacrificed a lot to make sure there could be a final product that worked for the citizens of the country. Even though Prof. Balram was not in favor of being a part of the press conference that would help ICMR and NIV clear the air about COVAXIN, he eventually joined the team on stage. Prof. Balram stated facts about workability, and the high percentage of positive results was proof that COVAXIN was not a substandard product. Rohini, at the press conference as usual, stood her ground because, as a journalist, she would have to, given the facts she held. The ICMR and NIV officials had to debunk everything Rohini stated on her news website as inaccurate.

Prof. Balram also gave the stage to all the officials to present the amount of work that was done all around the country during all the phases of the pandemic. Most of the data provided was true, and since this is based on the book, the makers did not divert from the facts. There was also a speech delivered to Rohini on how her organization and many others like her have spread half-truths, which is far more dangerous than spreading lies. This explains why there needs to be clarity from all forms of news outlets if their news is debunked as fake. Prof. Balram was right to point out that this was the fight for the survival of the country, and the government had nothing to do with it. The job of the government only is to implement laws, but the work done by the officials of the ICMR and NIV was for the countrymen that form the nation. 

The Vaccine War ended with Prof. Balram proclaiming that the Supreme Court had issued an order to remove all news related to COVAXIN from her news outlet. There was also a gag order on her outlet to stop publishing any news related to COVAXIN going forward. The officials of the core team go back to their normal lives. Dr. Nivedita Gupta’s son suffers from hysteria, which was seen in children whose parents were in the armed forces. Though the intent was right, the focus was on Dr. Nivedita being a COVID warrior and not on the kid who suffered a mental breakdown. The glorification of the COVID warriors and their effect on the children did not come out in the right manner. Prof. Balram, who did not have a good rapport with Dr. Priya throughout the COVID years, offered her the first copy of the book he wrote on the entire ordeal of building the vaccine from scratch. The Vaccine War was made with the right intent but lost its way in pandering to propaganda.


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Smriti Kannan
Smriti Kannan
Smriti Kannan is a cinema enthusiast, and a part time film blogger. An ex public relations executive, films has been a major part of her life since the day she watched The Godfather – Part 1. If you ask her, cinema is reality. Cinema is an escape route. Cinema is time traveling. Cinema is entertainment. Smriti enjoys reading about cinema, she loves to know about cinema and finding out trivia of films and television shows, and from time to time indulges in fan theories.

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