The Union government’s flawed vaccine procurement policy may jeopardize the effectiveness of the much-talked-about Universal Immunisation Programme (UIP) in the country and would put the recently revived public sector vaccine manufacturing facilities in dire straits, it is learned.
When the government brought down shutters of Central Research Institute (CRI) in Kasauli, BCG Vaccine Laboratory (BCGVL) in Guindy and Pasteur Institute of India (PII) in Coonor in 2008 citing non-compliance with statutory standards, previous Union health secretary SP Shukla and a group of health sector NGOs moved the top court alleging that the units were closed to benefit private manufacturers.
Because of public interest litigation (PIL) and a consistent monitoring by the top court, the units were revived by 2016 with a state-of-the-art facility. The health ministry spent Rs. 279 crore to upgrade the labs and boost their production capacity.
In any case, the government is still neglecting the production of vaccines in the public sector laboratories and obtaining products from privately owned companies notwithstanding higher rates, say activists. The move is making public sector units nonfunctional and inefficient and forces them to search for private buyers for survival.
Preceding suspension, the public sector supplied 85 of all universal vaccines procured by the government. Today, more than 90 percent of the government purchases are from the private sector. In addition, new vaccines and their combinations of doubtful viability and safety are being introduced in the universal immunization programme, they included.
The information on public and private sector vaccine production and supply obtained from the National Health Profile 2017 report vindicate the activists’ position. For example, in 2014-15 and 2015-16, when the government demanded 321.58 lakh doses of DPT from private sector manufacturers, only 188.4 and 75 lakh doses respectively of the same vaccine were acquired from the public sector. The figures reveal that the same is true for some different products.
The vaccines obtained include BCG, which is primarily used against tuberculosis, DPT which is used for diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough) and tetanus, DT which protects young children from diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough and TT, the tetanus vaccine.
The NGOs fighting a legal battle to resolve the issue faced a setback a week ago when the Supreme Court declined to review its earlier order in which it had disposed a request seeking for an inquiry into alleged negligence by the government in running public sector laboratories.
The PIL was filed by Shukla and representatives of the All India Drug Action Network (Aidan), Low-Cost Standard Therapeutics (LOCOST), Medico Friend Circle (MFC) and Society for Scientific Values (SSV). A fresh petition of is being considered. The government gave half-truths to the court based on which the case was dismissed.
“The private sector prices continued increasing throughout the years and government’s vaccine procuring orders from the public sector is declining in the meantime. That implies the recovery of units is achieved because of this PIL but the implementation of their full production capacity use is decreasing as years pass by,” N. Sarojini from Medico Friend Circle (MFC) expressed in an email interaction.
The UIP is one of the largest projects in the world as far as quantities of vaccines regulated, a number of beneficiaries and immunization sessions and geographical extent and diversity of areas covered. But procuring a major portion of vaccines from the private sector at excessive rates will increase the use and projected financially related necessities of the program, healthcare industry observers pointed out.