These include those against rotavirus, rubella and polio (injectable) along with Japanese encephalitis; is it a move to favour private companies?
In a statement issued on Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced vaccines against rotavirus, rubella, polio (injectible) and Japanese Encephalitis (JE), which will be available only in districts with high levels of the disease.
The PM claimed that the decision which has been taken in view of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and that it will help to reduce child mortality by two-thirds by 2015. The PM further informed that the country’s UIP will now provide free vaccines against 13 life threatening diseases, to 27 million children annually, making it the largest birth group being vaccinated in the world.
He also highlighted that diarrhoea, caused by rotavirus, kills nearly 80,000 children each year, resulting in upto 1 million hospitalisations, pushing many Indian families below the poverty line. It also imposes an economic burden of over Rs 300 crore each year on the country. “India will introduce this vaccine in a phased manner,” he added.
A pentavalent vaccine, had recently been introduced under UIP. In May last year, India developed and licensed its first indigenous rotavirus vaccine. It was developed under a public-private partnership by the Ministry of Science and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
Making the announcement, Modi also said that the vaccine against rubella, which causes severe congenital defects in newborns— like blindness, deafness and heart defects, will also save 200,000 babies which are born with congenital defects.
The adult vaccine against Japanese Encephalitis (JE) will be introduced in 179 endemic districts in nine states. Another development is that the country will now move from oral polio vaccine (OPV) to injectable polio vaccine (IPV).
Expert criticises decision
A health expert in vaccination, requesting anonymity, has said that all this is to give a boost to private companies. He highlighted that the vaccine against rotavirus will deal only with one of the at least 200 reasons which cause diarrhoea. “It is tough to imagine what kind of change this virus is going to bring on the ground. Not only this, the vaccine has been tested only on 4,500 kids, which makes a very small sample,” said the expert.
He further pointed out that rubella is very rare in India as children develop immune system even in the absence of vaccine. “Once the vaccine is introduced, the population will become vulnerable and will not develop immunity automatically,” he argued.
Talking about IPV, he said it is a costly business and a challenging programme. OPV could have been given even in trains. But IPV will be accessible only in hospitals. “The government should have given serious thought before taking the decision,” he added.
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