(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
July 27 , 2008
Re-Open Vaccine Producing Public Sector Units
AIDWA along with seven other national women’s organisations has submitted a memorandum on July 18, 2008 to the Health minister on the scarcity of vaccine supply in the country.
They demanded the re-opening of vaccine producing public sector units and expressed concern over the current vaccine availability in many state depots that has become critically low or is completely out of stock. The situation of scarcity is particularly pronounced for DPT ( triple antigen -for diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus) and TT (tetanus toxoid), which are central to the ambitious universal immunisation programme. The scarcity is primarily due to the closure of vaccine production by the public sector units (CRI at Kasauli, BCG vaccine laboratory at Chennai, and the prestigious 100 year old Pasteur Institute situated in Coonoor).The private sector is unable to supply such large quantities of vaccines, and those firms which do have the requisite capacity are reportedly using their stock for export.
The safety net created by the three public sector units, which were producing and supplying 60-70 per cent of all essential vaccines (DPT, TT and BCG) for the immunisation programme at reasonable costs, is no longer available. Consequently, there are immense chances of a cartel being formed which would push up prices and also create conditions for price-fixation. The option of imports from other countries, or purchases from MNCs situated elsewhere would also have an escalating effect on the prices.
It is also a matter of concern to us that the government is proposing to change the triple antigen into a pentavalent vaccine and the measles vaccine into measles-rubella vaccine. Both of these may lead to an increase in cost by about five times. It also means that when the prices go up, it would be attributed to this change and not to price fixation.
It is reported that the proposal to start a vaccine park in Tamilnadu is being entrusted to HLL at an initial cost of Rs 150 crores. Meanwhile, the ministry proposes to convert the existing units into drug testing centres. It is extremely unfortunate that institutes with decades of experience are being shut down on technicalities, while a company with no previous experience is being asked to set up a vaccine production unit.
It is in this context that the women’s groups urged the government to reconsider its decision to suspend the production of vaccines by the three public sector units.
They demanded that the Health ministry should move for the up-gradation of these units to ensure good quality manufacturing conditions, and restore the vaccine supply to the health system from the public sector institutes. The recent announcement made by the Health minister suggesting that that there is a proposal to re start vaccine production in the public sector units is a welcome one, which needs to be urgently implemented, they said. The women’s organizations made it clear that on no account should the supply of vaccines to the immunisation programme, and for other purposes be jeopardised by the speculative and profit oriented interests of the huge pharmaceutical industry and requested the minister to ensure that the independent and affordable vaccine supply system is supported and further strengthened.