Mass immunisation to get a shot in the arm soon

The draft policy—a copy of which is available with Deccan Herald—suggests periodic modification of the universal immunisation programme (UIP) which targets 2.7 crore infants and three crore pregnant women every year.

India started its mass immunisation programme in 1978. It was renamed as UIP in 1985 after it was expanded with the inclusion of measles and omission of typhoid vaccine.

But the number of vaccines given in UIP has remained static in the last three decades.

Only two new vaccines for Hepatitis-B and Japanese encephalitis (JE) were introduced in select districts and states since 2006, even though safe and efficacious vaccines against killer diseases like pneumonia and diarrhoea are available in the private sector.

Hepatitis-B vaccine is being supplied to 10 states though the government wanted to cover the entire country. Similarly JE vaccine is given to 80 districts and the plan is to expand it to cover 104 districts.

The UIP coverage for the entire state is more than 70 per cent only in 11 states. The coverage is 50-60 per cent in 13 states and below 53 per cent in the remaining eight states. The last group also happens to include the most populous states, which pushes the national average below 50 per cent.

The problems in revamping the UIP range from shoddy implementation of the existing scheme to lack of resources for purchasing or manufacturing vaccines and absence of adequate trained manpower to administer the shots.

The policy suggests the creation of a national immunisation authority, which will be responsible for policy formulation, establishing priorities, strategic planning, co-ordination with other departments and legal issues. It will also look after the human resources and financial needs as well as training, procurement, surveillance, monitoring and evaluation.

The authority—if the Centre decides to form it following the policy prescription—may help in the introduction of pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, haemophilus influenza B vaccine and rotavirus vaccine, which are on the government's UIP radar. All three are killer diseases for children.

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