New Delhi: Facing flak over halting production of essential vaccines at three state-owned drug makers, the ministry of health and family welfare is likely to let the Central Research Institute (CRI) to resume production, two persons familiar with the matter said.
“We have submitted a proposal to the DGHS (Directorate General of Health Services) to invest Rs13-14 crore in CRI Kasauli (in Himachal Pradesh) to resume production there. This should be approved soon,” said a ministry official, who declined being named.
The proposal comes after officials from the ministry and the Drug Controller General of India visited the Kasauli facility last month. The ministry official quoted was part of the visiting team.
A DGHS executive confirmed the development, but declined to elaborate. He, too, spoke on condition of anonymity.
The health ministry had, in January last year, shut down production at CRI, the Pasteur Institute of India in Coonoor, Tamil Nadu, and the BCG Vaccines Laboratory in Chennai, for not meeting norms of good manufacturing practices specified by India’s Drugs and Cosmetic Act of 1940, and the World Health Organization.
These three make vaccines covered under the country’s universal immunization programme that mandate vaccinating every child and pregnant woman against tuberculosis, diphtheria, whooping cough, polio, measles and tetanus.
Mint had reported on 26 February that the government might revoke its orders and let production of these vaccines resume at these three units due to pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office and a notice issued by the Supreme Court.
J.R. Mani, director of CRI, Kasauli, declined to comment on the latest development. Avinash Mishra, director for vaccines at the health ministry, who was also part of the team that visited CRI, wasn’t available as he was away on election duty. Last month, on his return from Kasauli, he had declined to comment on the issue.
“We have a new building at CRI Kasauli that is in good condition, and with some more investment, we can upgrade it to start vaccine production,” the ministry official said. “So, we will be restarting this unit to start production of the diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus (DPT) vaccine.” He also said it will take a year to resume production.
The annual government order for these vaccines, which were placed with private companies in June and July last year, ends on 31 March. This year, with the general election around the corner, the government took no chances. The orders for the vaccines were given to private firms before the earlier annual tender came to an end. India will elect a new Lok Sabha in April-May.
“The orders were placed with us on 27 March this year. Since there is already sufficient stock, we have enough time to plan our production,” said an executive of a private company that received an order. “Last year, we were hardly given any time,” he said, requesting anonymity.
He also said the government’s decision to restart production at CRI would give it a backup to ensure enough vaccines are available in India.
The executive, however, said: “But they (the government) have already invested Rs10-11 crore in CRI and now they are going to invest another Rs14 crore. This will amount to almost Rs25 crore of investment for DPT vaccine and with countries moving to more advanced vaccines like pentavalent, the government really has to see how practical this investment will be.”