Its non-availability in public health programme will affect the poor: Centre

The government on Wednesday said non-availability of pentavalent vaccine in the public health programme had equity implications for the poor who could not afford the vaccine in the private sector.

Seeking to put to rest doubts raised by a section of society over the utility of the pentavalent vaccine in the universal immunisation programme — launched in Kerala — the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said pentavalent was available in the private market for over a decade now with three Indian manufacturers producing it.

“The Pentavalent vaccine is already available in the private market at a very high cost. When it comes in the public health system it is free of cost and hence available to those who otherwise cannot afford it,” Anuradha Gupta, Joint Secretary in the Ministry, told The Hindu here.

The Pentavalent vaccine contains five antigens — Diphtheria, Pertussis, Tetanus, Hepatitis B and Hib with only Hib being the new addition to the immunisation programme. The Hib vaccine is available in both monovalent and combined formulations. India becomes the 171st country to introduce vaccination against Hib with the United States and Finland starting it in the early 1990s.

The pentavalent formulation has several programmatic advantages as it halves the number of injections per child and reduces the requirement of cold chain storage space besides ease of management of logistics and data. Hib infection causes pneumonia and meningitis that kill close to 5 lakh children every year in India. Meningitis can also result in crippling disabilities.

Dismissing criticism over the introduction of the pentavalent vaccine, Vinod Paul, Head of the Paediatrics Department at the AIIMS — who was also part of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) that took the final call on introducing the vaccine — said the decision was taken after due and intense process of discussion and had a strong scientific backing. “In fact, there should be an immediate scaling up of the vaccine in Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, where immunisation is low,” he said. The NTAGI heard voices of the government, independent researchers, civil society groups and researchers.