Centre's move to bring Rotavirus vaccine has researchers divided

Centre's move to bring Rotavirus vaccine has researchers divided

The Narendra Modi government’s plan to introduce a Rotavirus vaccine in the universal immunisation programme (UIP) has split the opinions of public health researchers, with one group supporting the move and the other questioning its safety and efficacy.

Rotavirus is the most common cause of diarrhoeal death among children. The estimated diarrhoeal death count in India is up to 80,000 annually, along with 8,00,000 hospitalisations.

Prodded by the Prime Minister’s Office, the Health Ministry plans to introduce the Rotavirus vaccine in the UIP in 2014, beginning with the procurement of 10 million doses for select districts.

The national technical advisory group on immunisation – a Health Ministry’s top technical body – recommended inclusion of the vaccine in the public health programme.

While public health specialists claim that introducing the vaccine would significantly alleviate disease and financial burden in the country’s households, a long-time critic of the vaccine programme questioned the safety of India’s low-cost Rotavirus vaccine.

Jacob Puliyel, head of paediatrics at the St Stephens Hospital in Delhi, raised questions on the complications the vaccine might have.

“The vaccines in the USA, tested on more than 10,000 children, were found to cause excess cases of intussusception – a complication wherein parts of the intestine are devoid of blood supply. The Indian vaccine was tested on 4,500 children for two years and data for the second year has not yet been made public,” he told Deccan Herald.

“The published data on the Indian vaccine suggests one excess case of intussusception for every 2,000 children. So the Indian vaccine is five times more dangerous than the vaccines approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. We should wait for a safer vaccine,” Puliyel said.

On the other hand, a study published in the journal Vaccine says that if the Rotavirus vaccine is introduced along with a third dose of the DPT vaccine, it would avert about 44,500 under-five deaths in India each year. Moreover, it would save $ 2.3 million (about Rs 14 crore) in out-of-pocket expenditure for every 10 lakh of vaccinations.

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