New Delhi: The health ministry on Friday introduced Jenvac, the country’s first indigenously developed vaccine for Japanese encephalitis, that will potentially reduce India’s dependence on imports from China to immunize nearly 4 million children annually.
The vaccine has been jointly developed by scientists at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), National Institute of Virology (NIV) and Bharat Biotech International Ltd.
The vaccine will be available in single and five doses.
Japanese encephalitis is a viral disease that infects animals and humans.
It is transmitted by mosquitoes and causes inflammation of the membranes around the brain.
The disease is the most common cause of viral encephalitis in Asia-Pacific.
Symptoms include high fever, headache, sensitivity to light, stiff neck and back, vomiting, confusion and, in severe cases, seizures, paralysis and coma.
Pigs and water birds act as amplifying hosts for the virus. One in four cases of Japanese encephalitis is fatal. The disease is responsible for 50,000 clinical cases and approximately 15,000 deaths a year. Japanese encephalitis has infected more than 10 million children globally, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The vaccine, developed by Bharat Biotech, will be more expensive than the Chinese option.
The imported vaccine costs around ₹ 20 per dose while Jenvac is likely to be priced around ₹ 70 per dose.
It will, however, be administered free of cost under the National Immunization Programme.
Speaking at the launch of Jenvac, health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) was a serious public health challenge for India with nearly 171 endemic districts in 19 states.
“So far, we have had to depend on a vaccine imported from China but its availability was an issue for comprehensive and quick augmentation of the national programme," said Azad “Not only is this India’s first fully indigenous vaccine, but it is also based on an Indian strain. Therefore, it is expected to improve the efficacy besides availability and affordability." With approximately 4 million people affected in 171 districts, India needs about 10 million doses of the vaccine for comprehensive coverage.
The virus strain for this vaccine was isolated at NIV in 1981, said Milind Gore, director NIV. “In the beginning you do not know what will work, but after we found out which strain will give a good product, we worked on further development, tightening and tested it for stability. Then I was approached by Bharat Biotech in 2008 and after that it was Bharat Biotech’s work."
He said it took two generation of scientists over 30 years to help produce this vaccine.
The Japanese encephalitis vaccine candidate strain (821564 XZ), used for making this vaccine, was isolated from the blood sample collected from a patient admitted to a government hospital in Kolar, Karnataka, in 1981.
The ministry has targeted interventions in Japanese encephalitis endemic areas through a comprehensive multi-pronged strategy and a budget of ₹ 4,000 crore.
The interventions are being implemented in 60 priority districts in Assam, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.