New Delhi: Interest in adult or adolescent vaccination has never been high in India despite the fairly successful Universal Immunisation Programme (UIP) that the government runs for children. Since the Covid pandemic, however, doctors say attitudes are changing and there is an increase in the uptake of influenza, pneumonia and HPV vaccines.
Other than the UIP — which is a government programme providing vaccines to pregnant mothers and newborn babies free of cost — there had been no other government initiative on adult or adolescent vaccination in India till the Covid vaccination programme began in early 2021.
According to doctors, voluntary vaccination in India had so far been limited to people belonging to the affluent social strata, but the experience of the pandemic and the visible change in the course of Covid pre- and post-vaccination have changed perceptions.
Speaking to ThePrint, Dr S. Chatterjee, internal medicine specialist at Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, said, “I would say that perceptions have surely changed. More people are now enquiring about pneumonia and influenza vaccines and doctors, too, are recommending them strongly. Earlier, doctors used to push for vaccines only for the elderly or immunocompromised. But the pandemic has changed all that.”
“People saw first-hand what difference vaccines can make. The actual difference in vaccine uptake is still small — I would say about 15-20 per cent more than pre-pandemic levels — but there is certainly higher acceptability of the idea. People are more aware, doctors are more aware and even the media is more aware,” the doctor added.
To some extent, the pandemic itself had given a fillip to the influenza vaccine — more commonly known as the flu vaccine — especially in the early days before the Covid vaccines became available in India.
Multiple papers in medical journals had claimed that the flu vaccine could provide some degree of protection against Covid, and many people had opted for it as an emergency safety measure.
Also read: Spurt in 3rd dose uptake after China Covid surge prompts Modi govt to review India’s readiness
Interest in HPV vaccine
Another vaccine that is seeing increased public interest is the one against the human papillomavirus (HPV), one of the commonest causes of cervical cancer.
It is recommended for use in adolescent boys and girls especially before they have their first sexual contact, though in India it is more common for girls to be given the vaccine.
“People are coming and asking about HPV vaccines because there is greater awareness about vaccines. However, a lot of work still needs to be done for its promotion, particularly by doctors. We are planning a school-level campaign, too, for the HPV vaccine,” said Dr Alka Pandey, vice-president of the Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India.
The federation has recommended to the government that the vaccine be included in the UIP, its president Dr Hrishikesh Pai said.
Dr Pandey added that “post-Covid, we are seeing more pregnant women coming for flu vaccination, and also for DPT vaccines. It is all about how much is done for information dissemination”. The DPT vaccine can prevent diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis.
Dr Tapisha Kumar, a consultant paediatrician at Delhi’s Max Super Speciality Hospital, said “It is a myth that there is no vaccine hesitancy in India”.
“It is very much there but perhaps not so much in the cities. Many people think it is just a ploy for doctors to make money. But after the pandemic, I see a lot more parents proactively seeking vaccinations for their children, particularly for flu. People now understand very well what is it that vaccines do and what uncontrolled disease can do. I would say that in my practice, I have seen a 20-30 per cent increase in uptake of these vaccines,” Dr Kumar added.
The flu vaccine is recommended for children aged six months and above. The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends two doses annually till the child is eight years of age. The World Health Organization recommends it for children aged between 6 months and five years.
(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)
Also read: Eye on China Covid spike, 57% Indians demand mask mandate on flights, at airports