Govt apathy hits vaccine unit

Govt apathy hits vaccine unit

 India’s only Yellow Fever vaccine manufacturing unit at the Central Research Institute in Kasauli is shut for the last five years, even as the Centre continues to import the critical vaccine.

While the production was stopped in 2011 on the pretext that CRI did not have good manufacturing practice (GMP) grade facilities to commercially produce the vaccine, over the years the Union health ministry did precious little to upgrade the unit.

For more than a year, a CRI proposal to modernise the production unit in collaboration with a Russian agency is gathering dust in the health ministry. CRI is one of the three public sector vaccine manufacturing units that was shut in 2008. The other two units were BCG Vaccine Laboratory (BCGVL) at Guindy and Pasteur Institute of India (PII), Coonoor.

Subsequently, an expert panel had recommended revival of the three units. Several parliamentary committees also asked the government to bring them back to life as the government spent hundreds of crores to buy vaccine from private companies for its immunisation programme.

According to the original plan, they were to be ready in their new avatar within three years. While CRI and BCGVL are only partially ready, the new target schedule for the PII is June 2017.

“We are appalled at this state of affairs, which ultimately led to our dependency on private vaccine manufacturers for meeting the demand for vaccines under the universal immunisation programme,” the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health said in its latest report.

CRI is GMP-compliant only for DPT and TT vaccines. “We submitted a proposal on technology transfer from a Russian agency that would upgrade our production unit and transfer the technical know how to manufacture the Yellow Fever vaccine at competitive rate. We are awaiting the health ministry’s approval,” a source in the CRI told DH.

CRI also makes anti-snake venom and anti-rabies sera in a limited quantity. But again a proposal to expand the production capacity of these sera is yet to be sanctioned by the health ministry.

And once the CRI was made GMP-compliant for DPT, the ministry changed the universal immunisation scheme by introducing the pentavalent vaccine. This left CRI with little option but to sell its DPT stock to private vaccine companies at a lower rate, to make the pentavalent vaccine, for the government scheme.

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