Four new vaccines have been introduced into the country’s Universal Immunisation Programme (UIP), including injectable polio vaccine and an adult vaccine against Japanese Encephalitis.

Vaccines against rotavirus, rubella and polio (injectable) will help the country meet its Millennium Development Goals 4 targets that include reducing child mortality by two-thirds by 2015, besides meeting meet global polio eradication targets. An adult vaccine against Japanese encephalitis will also be introduced in districts with high levels of the disease, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on Thursday.

The recommendations to introduce these new vaccines have been made after numerous scientific studies and comprehensive deliberations by the National Technical Advisory Group of India (NTAGI), the country’s apex scientific advisory body on immunisation, an official communiqué said.

Vaccines have been a contentious issue in public health circles, with some doctors urging caution in the choice of vaccines introduced while expanding the immunisation programme, from both a safety and economic perspective.

With these new vaccines, India’s UIP will now provide free vaccines against 13 life threatening diseases, to 27 million children annually.

Calling it one of the most significant health policies in the last 30 years, the note pointed out that the latest decision along with the recently introduced pentavalent vaccine, will help prevent death in about one lakh infants and adults in the working age group, besides putting a stop to about 10 lakh hospitalizations each year.

“The introduction of four new lifesaving vaccines, will play a key role in reducing the childhood and infant mortality and morbidity in the country. Many of these vaccines are already available through private practitioners to those who can afford them. The government will now ensure that the benefits of vaccination reach all sections of the society, regardless of social and economic status,” the PM said.

Indigenous vaccine

Diarrhoea caused by rotavirus kills nearly 80 thousand children each year, results in up to 10 lakh 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.

Last year, India developed and licensed its first indigenous rotavirus vaccine, developed under a public-private partnership by the Ministry of Science and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, along with Hyderabad-based company Bharat Biotech. India will introduce this vaccine in a phased manner, the note said.

The UIP also targets rubella, which causes severe congenital defects in newborns, like blindness, deafness and heart defects. It is estimated that nearly two lakh babies are born with congenital defects each year in the country.

Adult JE vaccine

The adult vaccine against Japanese Encephalitis (JE) in 179 endemic districts in 9 states, is the other significant addition to the immunization regime. Meanwhile, reaffirming its commitment to a polio free world - India is set to introduce Injectable Polio Vaccine (IPV), together with 125 countries in a globally synchronised manner, the note said.

India was certified as polio free in March this year and the introduction of IPV in addition to the oral polio vaccine (OPV) will provide long lasting protection to the population against the virus, the note said.

The expanded vaccine immunisation programme could also provide a booster shot for the country’s local vaccine makers, including Serum Institute and Panacea Biotech, besides multinationals like Sanofi-owned Shantha Biotech and GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals, for example.

jyothi.datta@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on July 3, 2014)
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