India’s vaccine policy announced in April last year met with more criticism this week as two New Delhi-based science policy analysts — Y. Madhavi and N. Raghuram — made a bold and scathing attack in an opinion paper in the Indian Academy of Sciences journal Current Science. The policy, they say, is more about “spending and coverage than about protecting children”. The scientists, who have been pressing for a “comprehensive and evidence based vaccine policy” are convinced that India’s disease incidence figures and public health statistics are “dubious and industry manufactured.”
The policy is designed to justify spending public money on privately produced vaccines in the name of protection from diseases, they contend. Madhavi, from the National Institute of Science, Technology & Development Studies (NISTADS) and Raghuram, from the GGS Indraprastha University, go on point out that unlike other national policies, the draft of the vaccine policy was not made public for discussions among stakeholders before dbeing finalised. “Why was the entire drafting exercise done in such a tearing hurry and intriguing secrecy, ” they ask.
The authors observe that the vaccine policy does not take into account the opinion and feedback of government-run bodies Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and NISTADS on this issue. Moreover, several courts in the country, including the Supreme Court, are still hearing a number of cases on the government’s handling of serious policy issues in vaccine manufacture and adoption. India has repeatedly faced criticism for the shortage of many routine vaccines for universal immunization programmes.
They further allege that the policy pays “lip service” to several important issues such as criteria for new vaccine introduction into universal immunisation programmes. The most annoying thing about the present policy, however, seems to be the fact that it was formulated and implemented top-down without the mandate of the scientific community, civil society, cabinet or parliament.
It remains to be seen what the government does to meet mounting criticism on this front.