The Centre on Thursday denied media reports which said that there is a shortage of polio vaccines in the country. It said the Centre has already procured the required quantity of oral polio vaccine for the National Immunisation Day.
The Narendra Modi-led government has decided to indefinitely postpone the polio National Immunisation Day campaign, owing to a paucity of vaccines, The Print had reported earlier in the day. The campaign was to be held on February 3.
“There is no shortage of oral polio vaccines and inactivated polio vaccines in the country,” the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said in a press release, describing the media reports as “totally incorrect”. “The government has not postponed the National Immunisation Day indefinitely, as wrongly reported in the media.”
The ministry said that testing of the Oral Polio Vaccine has been made more stringent, and the vaccine will be dispatched to states after the national testing laboratory clears each batch. It added that the National Immunisation Day “will be held soon”.
The health ministry, however, acknowledged that there had been a steep rise in the prices of the Inactivated Polio Vaccine, following which the Centre approached Gavi – an international organisation that supports immunisation in poor countries – to supply it.
On January 18, the health ministry wrote to all states except Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Kerala, informing them that the campaign has been postponed. The three states possess the requisite stocks of the vaccine.
“Due to unavoidable circumstances, it has been decided to postpone the programme for the time being,” the letter, which The Print said it has accessed, read. “The rescheduled date for the said activity will be communicated in the due course.”
In September last year, the health ministry ordered an investigation into claims that traces of polio type II virus were found in some batches of oral polio vaccine manufactured by a company in Ghaziabad. Subsequently, the Ghaziabad Police arrested SP Garg, the managing director of pharmaceutical company Bio-Med Private Limited, based on a complaint by the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation.
The polio type II viral strain has been eradicated all over the world.
However, in October, the health ministry issued an advisory assuring parents of the safety of the oral polio vaccine. It said that the Centre has stopped the use of oral polio vaccine manufactured by Bio-Med Private Limited. Earlier that month, the World Health Organization said the risk to children from the contaminated batches of the oral polio vaccine is minimal, because of the high routine polio immunisation coverage in India.
The discovery of contaminated batches of the vaccine caused a shortage in its supply, News18 reported earlier on Thursday citing sources.
The Print quoted three unidentified officials in the health ministry as saying that the government is likely to get sufficient numbers of oral polio vaccines by March, and inactivated polio vaccines by May. “We have one less manufacturer now, and demand is growing phenomenally due to new births every hour, so our stocks are stressed,” a health ministry official told the news website.