New Delhi: The ministry of health and family welfare is in the early stages of formulating a national vaccine policy that aims to increase transparency and allow the general public a greater say in its development.
The policy is being drafted by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) with technical inputs from vaccine and public health experts.
“The aim of this policy is to ensure that a vaccine is introduced on strong evidence to benefit a larger section of people,” said V.M. Katoch, secretary, department of health research, and director-general, ICMR.
Health secretary Sujatha Rao confirmed that the ministry is thinking about having a vaccine policy.
While there is no policy draft prepared by the government yet, suggestions have been submitted by a consortium of doctors, scientists, policy analysts and lawyers in a paper titled Evidence-based National Vaccine Policy.
“There should be a pathway of discussion and decision-making and a proper consultation process,” Katoch said. “First, the need for a vaccine should be debated, then what data should be generated, and finally, which vaccine to introduce.”
The focal point of such a policy will be to determine what vaccines enter the national immunization programme and whether they should be utilized on a national or selective basis.
“There is a lot of push from the industry and international organizations for vaccines to be introduced in the national immunization programme,” said Y. Madhavi, senior scientist at the National Institute of Science and Technology and one of the authors of the paper. “As it is, whatever existing vaccines are there in the programme are facing shortage. So, on the one hand, you are unable to meet the demand, and on the other hand, you want to introduce new vaccines.”
The method of prevention sometimes diverts attention from other issues that need to be addressed.
“Just because vaccines are available, for anything and everything, people are getting vaccinated and in turn other public health issues are getting neglected,” Madhavi said.
Recently, the government suspended a study being conducted in Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat on the HPV vaccine to prevent cervical cancer in women. The move came after six girls who had been administered the vaccine died. However, the study was also an attempt by the government to see if the vaccine could be brought into its national routine immunization programme.
“The government review mechanism should be known to people and data should be available. A vaccine policy will enable that. It will also help decide the cost of a vaccine, how to make it available to the poor and whether there should be price control on it or not,” said Katoch.
A policy would also help put in place a national mechanism to take evidence and science-based decisions on introducing vaccines.
The policy paper states that a vaccine is just one among the many inputs needed for effective public health management of communicable diseases. Other measures such as food security, safe drinking water, sanitation, primary education, gender sensitivity and health education are also key in the control of communicable diseases.
The paper also advocates the formation of a National Vaccine Regulatory Authority by restructuring the current National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization. This would allow wider representation to local scientists, policy experts, state-owned firms and the public.