Virologist Shahid Jameel quits Centre’s panel on genome sequencing

New Delhi: Days after pointing out that scientists are facing “stubborn resistance to evidence-based policy making”, noted virologist Shahid Jameel quit as the head of INSACOG, a central government panel which conducts genome sequencing of coronavirus.

Jameel announced his plan to step down in a meeting of INSACOG held on Friday, said two officials who were part of it.

Calls and messages to Jameel went unanswered.

An official said the virologist did not give any reason for why he was quitting.

Last week, Jameel had written a piece on the second wave of coronavirus in the ‘New York Times’.

“All of these measures have wide support among my fellow scientists in India. But they are facing stubborn resistance to evidence-based policymaking. On April 30, over 800 Indian scientists appealed to the prime minister, demanding access to the data that could help them further study, predict and curb this virus,” he said in the piece.

“Decision-making based on data is yet another casualty, as the pandemic in India has spun out of control. The human cost we are enduring will leave a permanent scar,” he added.

The Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG) is a grouping of 10 national laboratories that was established by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on December 25 last year after new variants of coronavirus like the UK, South Africa and Brazil variants emerged.

These labs are: Department of Biotechnology – National Institute of Biomedical Genomics, Kalyani; DBT-Institute of Life Sciences, Bhubaneswar; Indian Council for Medical Research National Institute of Virology, Pune; DBT- National Centre For Cell Science, Pune; Council for Scientific and Industrial Research Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad; DBT- Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics, Hyderabad; DBT-InSTEM/ National Centre For Biological Sciences, Bengaluru; National Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience, Bengaluru; CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, Delhi, and National Centre for Disease Control, Delhi.

INSACOG has been carrying out genomic sequencing and analysis of circulating COVID-19 viruses, and correlating epidemiological trends with genomic variants.

However, it came under criticism after the second wave of coronavirus swept the country.

Earlier this month, Jameel had told Reuters, “Policy has to be based on evidence and not the other way around.”

“I am worried that science was not taken into account to drive policy. But I know where my jurisdiction stops. As scientists we provide the evidence, policymaking is the job of the government,” Jameel had said.