Updated on 5 June 2012
India needs to act on the steps advised in the policy document to make Universal Immunization Programme a success
A year after India released its National Vaccine Policy, industry experts say it is time to draw up a plan to put the guidelines into practise. The policy seeks "to develop a long-term plan to strengthen the whole vaccine program and intends to provide broader policy guidelines and framework to guide the creation of evidence base to justify the need for R&D, production, procurement, and quality assessment of vaccines for the Universal Immunization Programme (UIP) in India".
The policy, which was released by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in April 2011, points out the significance of the vaccine industry and underlines the need for active public sector units in case vaccines meant for the UIP, which are cheaper and less profitable than others, are ignored by the industry. It also says there is a need to "revive the PSUs" and make them more "competitive", so that the supply of UIP vaccines is not threatened. The document, however, does not give any detailed plans for the revival of the PSUs.
Mr KV Balasubramaniam, MD, Indian Immunologicals, Hyderabad, appreciates the policy but says having a policy in place in not enough to address the problems of UIP. "What we need first is an immunization policy that states policies and priorities with respect to immunization in India to meet the preventive health challenges where vaccines are just one part. My stress is equally on priorities along with policies. How do we reduce the unacceptably high level of AEFIs, adverse events following vaccination? These issues need to be addressed too."
In India, a glaring disparity in the immunization program is the fact that even though Indian vaccine manufacturers supply over 43 percent of the global vaccine requirements, the average of national coverage of the essential vaccines under the UIP in India is below 50 percent. The UIP in India targets 2.7 crore infants with a domestic market of 100 million doses, making it one of the largest markets for vaccines in the world.
The policy describes the circumstance in the following way: "The regular production and supply of vaccines under UIP, where majority of manufacturers are increasingly paying attention to the newer vaccines, is a big challenge. There is limited production capacity of these vaccines in public sector units and the involvement of private sector manufacturers is required to ensure that the supply of UIP vaccines is not threatened." The policy, therefore, aims to develop a plan to strengthen the vaccine program.