Maharashtra doctors refuse vaccination even as toll rises
India has unveiled two indigenous vaccines against swine flu which so far has claimed over 18,000 lives around the world, including more than 1,000 in India.
Seventeen people died and as many as 330 persons tested positive for the flu in different parts of India between July 5 and July 12.
The country's first intra-nasal vaccine 'Nasovac' was released by Pune’s Serum Institute of India on July 5. Nasovac, meant for Type A H1N1 pandemic strain, is a nasal spray in powder form, which has to be reconstituted by adding water. One dose costs Rs 200. Nasovac was preceded by Vaxiflu-S on June 3. It is a single shot intra-muscular vaccine against H1N1 virus and manufactured by Ahmedabad-based pharma company Zydus Cadila and costs Rs 350. Bharat Biotech Ltd of Hyderabad & Panacea Biotech of New Delhi are also expected to launch their indigenously manufactured H1N1 vaccines soon.
But doctors in Maharashtra are not willing to get themselves vaccinated against swine flu despite the state being one of the worst affected. Anita Kar, director of Interdisciplinary School of Health Sciences University of Pune, said doctors are refusing because they believe they are developing automatic immunity while treating swine flu patients. Besides, the virus keeps mutating frequently to other strains. So, the vaccine would be effective only for a limited period of time, she added.
V M Kulkarni, in-charge of Maharashtra’s immunisation programme, imported approximately 34,300 doses of vaccines in March, out of which only 2,055 have been used. “We are still left with 90 per cent of the stock,” he said. Gujarat has used 25,192 doses out of the 33,200 doses of swine flu vaccine supplied to them last year. “We may return unused stock to the Ministry in the near feature,” said Sudhir Gandhi, the additional director of training and deputy director-epidemic of Gujarat's health department. Delhi used only 60 per cent of the stocks but Kerala, the another badly affected state, has reportedly used 90 per cent of the 45,000 vaccines.
The lack of demand for H1N1 vaccines has put the spotlight on the World Health Organisation (WHO), accused of creating a panic about the disease to give the pharma industry a boost. WHO had declared H1N1 a pandemic on June 11, 2009. An investigative report in the British Medical Journal on June 3 said pharma companies for their own profit paid key scientists who were advising the UN health agency on pandemic preparedness plans.
The report also identified scientists who were paid to speak at meetings sponsored by the drug manufacturers. The WHO advice led to governments around the world, including India, importing antiviral drugs. But WHO refuted the claim. Its director general Margaret Chan said, “At no time, not for one second, did commercial interests enter my decision-making.” The decisions regarding pandemic alert level were based on clearly defined virological and epidemiological criteria, she said. An independent review committee under International Health Regulations is evaluating WHO’s performance in handling the pandemic.