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Currently, India’s vaccine policy formulated in 2011 only focuses on children and not adults. File photo: AFP
Currently, India’s vaccine policy formulated in 2011 only focuses on children and not adults. File photo: AFP

Why government’s adult immunisation policy is not taking off

Experts say the government needs to formulate a comprehensive policy for adult immunisation and create awareness about it

New Delhi: Lack of resources, infrastructure and strategy is hindering the government to formulate a policy on adult immunisation when the burden of vaccine preventable diseases such as Japanese Encephalitis, tetanus, Hepatitis etc is increasing everyday. With its latest experience of offering vaccination for Japanese Encephalitis (JE) for adults, where the turn up was only 50% of the adult population targeted in 2016

Japanese Encephalitis vaccination was expanded in adult population of districts with high disease burden of adult JE. Recently, 21 high burden districts from Assam, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal have been identified for adult JE vaccination. The vaccination campaign activity has been completed in 3 districts of Assam (Darrang, Nagaon and Sonitpur) and selected blocks of 3 districts (Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar) of West Bengal, and is ongoing in selected blocks of 6 districts of Uttar Pradesh.

The ministry of health and family welfare is in doldrums on rolling out a policy for adult immunisation.

“We need a comprehensive policy for adult immunisation. But there is no awareness about adult immunisation in India and people still think that immunisation is for children. Also, despite aggressive campaigns, many don’t turn up for immunisation among children; achieving full coverage for adults will be a herculean task," said Pradeep Haldar, deputy commissioner, immunisation division, health ministry.

“The disease burden in India is increasing for both communicable and non-communicable diseases. But, rolling out a policy for adult immunisation needs infrastructure, strategy, funds and massive awareness campaign. Pulling people for immunisation remains a challenge," Haldar said.

Though there is much impetus on childhood vaccination, the government has not focussed on adult immunisation, though public health experts recommend immunisation throughout life for preventing illnesses due to infectious diseases. The significance lies in the fact that more than 25% of mortality in India is due to infectious diseases. Vaccines for adults are required for diseases such as tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, Hepatitis A, hepatitis B, human papilloma virus, Japanese Encephalitis, measles, mumps, rubella, meningococcus, pneumococcus, typhoid, influenza and chickenpox. Currently, India’s vaccine policy formulated in 2011 only focuses on children and not adults.

“We offered for JE immunisation last year but the turn up was barely 50%. Even if we start adult immunisation, the expected turn up is very low. This is the reason, we are not taking the idea of adult immunisation forward," said Haldar.

Pointing out at low awareness about adult vaccines in India, a survey conducted by Ipsos MORI, a market research organisation, and sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline Plc (GSK), a British pharmaceutical company, found that 31% of adults surveyed have not received any vaccination in the past five years.

The survey conducted among 2,002 adults across six cities in India (Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Chennai) in September 2017, found that for over 42% of adults ranked staying in good physical health as the primary priority in life, staying up-to-date with vaccinations is typically less important compared with other ways of staying healthy such as eating healthy, keeping active and not smoking, particularly among males.

Interestingly, around 34% believe vaccinations are required only for travel purposes, 38% believe vaccinations are for children and/or babies only and 26% believe vaccinations are not required if one is fit and healthy.

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