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Contamination, Rise in Prices Force Health Ministry to Postpone National Polio Immunisation Day

The reasons for the delay, sources said, were a series of events triggered by the discovery of the contaminated viruses leading to domestic shortfall in supply and delays due to stricter security protocols.

Aniruddha Ghosal | News18.com@aniruddhg1

Updated:January 24, 2019, 8:01 PM IST
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Contamination, Rise in Prices Force Health Ministry to Postpone National Polio Immunisation Day
A medical worker administers polio drops to an infant at a hospital during the pulse polio immunization programme (File photo: Reuters)
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New Delhi: Months after traces of polio type 2 virus were found in some batches of oral polio vaccine (OPV) manufactured domestically, the health department has postponed the polio national immunisation day campaign.

In a letter, dated January 18, written to all states and UTs – barring Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Kerala, where the stocks are said to be sufficient – Dr Pradeep Haldar, Immunisation Division, referred to the planned National Immunisation Day on February 3 and said, “Due to some unavoidable circumstances, it has been decided to postpone the programme for now, the rescheduled date for the said activity will be communicated in due course."

In spite of repeated attempts, Haldar didn’t respond to questions by News18.

The reasons for the delay, sources said, were a series of events triggered by the discovery of the contaminated viruses leading to domestic shortfall in supply and delays due to stricter security protocols. All of this, sources added, has been made worse by a sharp rise in price of vaccines that has forced the government to approach Gavi — an international organisation that supports immunisation in poor countries — to intervene and help maintain inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) supplies to India.

Reacting to the discovery of the contaminated vaccines, the health ministry issued a statement in October stressing on “special mop up rounds” for the administration of IPV – critical to ensure that India maintains its polio-free status.

“To enhance immunity against type 2 poliovirus further, special mop up rounds for administering IPV are being conducted in the specified areas to reach out to such children who may have missed IPV. This would provide immunity to all the children against all the three types of poliovirus including Type 2,” it said.

Without the risks of vaccine-associated polio paralysis or vaccine-derived polio viruses that are there with the oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV), the health ministry faced the risk of a stock-out after Sanofi, vaccine maker and India’s only IPV supplier, decided to uniformly revise prices – an increase from Rs 61 to Rs 147, per dose in 2019, and Rs 177 from 2020 through 2022, as per a UNICEF document.

IPV was introduced in India by the Health Ministry, with the aid of GAV, which gave Rs 118.8 crore in 2015 and 2016.

This, officials admitted, was also a reflection of India’s poor budgetary allocation to the health department. The National Health Mission, for instance, saw a decline of 2.1% in budgetary allocation.

“Health remains an afterthought, when it comes to budgetary allocations,” admitted an official.

Apart from this, the security protocols put in place since the discovery of the contaminated vaccines in Uttar Pradesh have also led to a delay in the stocks of OPV.

“There were, naturally, some questions about security checks and we put in new layers of security protocols for the remaining manufacturers. But this has led to some delay,” admitted an official of the health department.

Meanwhile, state governments reacted and said the impact of a potential shortfall would depend on the size of the state and also its existing stock.

Dr G Dewan, Director, Health Services, Chandigarh, said, “Our stocks are in good supply and the question of demand increasing doesn’t impact us the way it would impact a larger state.”

However, a senior official of the West Bengal health department said, “It is the larger states with a young population that would be most impacted by this. These circumstances aren’t unavoidable – but the result of a lack of foresight.”

The Central government, however, has denied that there is any shortage of polio vaccine or funds for its procurement in the country.

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| Edited by: Ahona Sengupta
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