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India doesn’t have polio vaccine for the next round of immunisation

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Govt has postponed indefinitely the next polio immunisation, on 3 February, as India is facing acute shortage of both kinds of vaccines — OPV and IPV.

New Delhi: As India grapples with a shortage of polio vaccines, the Narendra Modi government has decided to postpone the polio national immunisation day campaign indefinitely.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare wrote to all states except Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Kerala [these three states had the requisite stocks] on 18 January, informing them that the campaign, which was supposed to be conducted on 3 February, has been postponed.

“Due to unavoidable circumstances, it has been decided to postpone the programme for the time being,” said the letter, which has been accessed by ThePrint. “The rescheduled date for the said activity will be communicated in the due course.”

National immunisation days (NIDs) are mass campaigns during which doses of oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV) are given to children under the age of five across the country, with an aim to eradicate polio. NIDs are recommended by the World Health Organisation and are conducted twice a year.

Three senior officials in the health ministry confirmed to ThePrint that the ministry is trying to end the shortage. It expects to get enough OPVs by March and Inactivated Polio Vaccines (IPV) by May, an official from the ministry’s immunisation cell said.

In response to this article, the health ministry issued a press release Thursday evening, denying that there was a shortage of OPV or IPV.

“As far as polio national immunization days (NID) is concerned, the required quantity of bivalent Oral Polio Vaccine (bOPV) has already been secured for the programme. However, to ensure availability of safe and quality vaccine to our children during NID, the testing of bOPV is made more stringent and the same will be dispatched to states for public use after the clearance from national testing laboratory for each batch and Polio NID will be held soon (sic),” the ministry said, without specifying a date.

“Regarding Inactivated Polio Vaccine (IPV), there is neither shortage of IPV nor any shortage of funds for its procurement for Universal Immunization Programme (UIP) in the country…Confronted with steep hike in prices of IPV, India approached Gavi for partial support for further procurements, as India is also a Gavi eligible country and the same has been agreed to by Gavi Board.”

Also read: The detailed story of how India won the battle against poliovirus

Shortage of OPV

The government is struggling with the shortage of both kinds of polio vaccines — OPV and IPV — due to a lack of funding, lower domestic production, and longer testing procedures.

OPV, which is used in the national immunisation programmes, is running short after the government cancelled the manufacturing licence of the Ghaziabad-based vaccine maker Bio-Med in September last year.

Bio-Med’s vaccines were found contaminated with type 2 poliovirus. Now, only two firms manufacture the vaccine — Bharat Biotech and Panacea Biotec.

“We have one less manufacturer now, and demand is growing phenomenally due to new births every hour, so our stocks are stressed,” said a senior official from the health ministry.

“Moreover, after the incident, we have added layers of new testing protocols for other manufacturers. The enhanced testing process has delayed the supply of the stock for the immunisation programmes,” the source added.

Shortage of IPV

IPV, which is critical to maintaining India’s polio-free status, is on the verge of stock-out.

While OPV is the primary vaccine to protect children from polio, IPV is administered alongside to strengthen a child’s immune system and provide further protection against the disease.

In 2016, the World Health Organisation had introduced at least one dose of IPV in immunisation programmes across the globe.

The government is facing a budget crunch to buy IPVs because there was a sudden jump of over 100 per cent in their prices. India’s budget fell short by almost Rs 280 crore.

According to UNICEF, the prices for IPV have increased from Rs 61 per dose to Rs 147 in 2019. The prices are expected to further shoot up to Rs 177 per dose between 2020 and 2022.

To meet the funding gap, the ministry has reached out to the international organisation that supports vaccination programmes across the world, Gavi.

“The quotations to buy IPV sent by suppliers this year were higher by 80 per cent against last year,” said the official quoted above.

“We have applied to receive help from Gavi in the form of subsidised vaccines. We have asked for 50 per cent of our total requirements,” the official added.

India has been taking the help of Gavi to run several other immunisation programmes. The organisation has already disbursed Rs 770 crore for pneumococcal immunisation between 2017 and 2019. It also approved Rs 400 crore for rotavirus vaccines between 2018 and 2020.

Also read: We are not source of India’s polio vaccine contamination, says Indonesian drug firm

An earlier version of this report said the health ministry had written to all states, but three were excluded, as explained in the updated report.

The health ministry’s statement has also been added to the report upon its release Thursday evening.

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