Saturday, May 28, 2022
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‘Free’ Vaccines Aren’t Free Of The Foreign Hand

The perils of India’s growing dependence on vaccine imports and private manufacturers

‘Free’ Vaccines Aren’t Free Of The Foreign Hand
Immunity Disorder Photograph by Getty Images

How many vaccines does a newborn need? Does a child need vaccination regardless of how minor the ailment or rare the disease? Even doctors don’t offer a clear answer. More than 85 per cent of the total vaccines sold in India are administered through state-run programmes under the central government’s Universal Immunisation Programme (UIP). Aiming to immunise all newborn children, the programme started off with six essential vaccines and, over the past few years, introduced three more—rotavirus, Pentavalent and pneumococcal vaccines—while the mumps vaccine is in the process of being added. Battling overstretched resources and poor coverage, the programme has also drawn flak for yielding to the influence of international bodies, leading to certain vaccines being introduced that allegedly don’t match the profile of immunisation needs on the ground. For instance, every year, five lakh children die due to vaccine-preventable diseases and another 89 lakh are at risk, because they are either unimmunised or partially immunised.

So is public money being spent for private profit through the welfare-oriented, ‘free’ immunisation programme? “The UIP is funded by taxpayers’ money, so when any vaccine is introduced for mass immunisation, it has to be proved that the disease burden (spread of the disease) and the vaccine’s quality actually call for rolling out a state- or nation-wide programme for it,” says Dr Jacob Puliyel, head of paediatrics at St Stephens Hospital in Delhi and a member of the National Technical Adv­isory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI).

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