Gates Foundation denies role in vaccine supplier selection

HYDERABAD Nov. 13. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on Wednesday sought to steer clear of the controversy surrounding the order of Hepatitis B vaccine to Shantha Biotech, a Hyderabad-based firm, saying the entire issue was handled by the Andhra Pradesh Government and it had no role to play.

Fielding questions on the subject, at a press conference on the eve of the Foundation Co-founder and Microsoft Chairman, Bill Gates visit to city tomorrow, James Cheyne, Associate Director, Children's Vaccine Programme of the Foundation, said the vaccine had to be imported through UNICEF last year as no Indian company had WHO approval. This year, the Hyderabad firm got the WHO pre-qualification and might be that was how it got the order. "But it is purely the State Government's decision''.

As far as the Foundation was concerned, it was guided by the principle of relying on local producers instead of importing it from outside. The same was the case with manpower requirement. All those involved in the CVP were Indians. Dr. Raj Kumar, Project Manager, CVP, said notwithstanding the row, there were sufficient stocks of vaccine doses.

On concerns relating to necessity and safety of the vaccine, Helene Gayle, Director, HIV/AIDS and TB of the Foundation, said India had the second highest number of those suffering from hepatitis. Yet the availability of the vaccine was confined to the private sector. Now with its inclusion in the routine immunisation programme to newly-born babies, in partnership with the State Government, it had been brought into public domain. She said the Hepatitis-B vaccine was safe and there was no evidence of any side effect. In India, it had been in use for 12 years and there was no complaint. It was to take care of such problems the system of vaccine registry was being introduced as part of the CVP.

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