17 February 2011
By Kounteya Sinha
New Delhi, India
NIV director Dr A C Mishra told TOI, "The vaccine used in Bulgaria against CCHF won’t help in protecting Indians. There are six groups of CCHF virus. After studying the Indian strain, we have found that it is significantly different from the Bulgarian strain."
Dr Mishra added, "Overall, all strains of CCHF are very dangerous the reason why they are characterized as a bio-safety level IV agent. If the strains are of a close group, the same vaccine can work against it. However, that isn’t the case between the Indian and Bulgarian strain."
In a letter to Gujarat health minister Jay Narayan Vyas on February 11, Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said, "The issue of the Bulgarian vaccine is being examined regarding its suitability, safety and efficacy."
In reaction, Dr Mishra said a vaccine against CCHF was crucial for India. "Since the virus has now been found in India and we know it has been around for sometime, it is important we have a vaccine against in in our folder, specially because it is a highly pathogenic virus. So it is better we make our own indigenous vaccine with the Indian strain." According to Dr Mishra, this has many benefits.
"For one, we will know the vaccine works since it combats the strain circulating within India. Then, a CCHF virus does not mutate or change very fast unlike an influenza virus. So if we create a few batches of an Indian vaccine against CCHF, we can just keep it for times of emergency. Its shelf life too would be long," Dr Mishra added.
Azad, in the letter, had said, "NIV has already started work with a pharma company to assess the feasibility of developing an indigenous vaccine."
Dr Mishra said, "The problem with the Bulgarian vaccine is that it is not US FDA approved. We, therefore, have to test it on our own population and satisfy our drug regulators before using it on the Indian population. By the time the vaccine is brought, tested and proved, we would have our own vaccine."
Meanwhile, NIV has set up a diagnostic laboratory in Ahmedabad to test human samples for CCHF. "Till now, by the time the samples reached NIV, we lost a day. Three experts from Gujarat have been trained at NIV on safe handling of the human samples and how to interpret the results. Quick diagnosis is crucial with this virus. It kills most infected humans," Dr Mishra said. For the first time, India reported human infection with CCHF in Gujarat. Four people have died of it.
Unfortunately, according to World Health Organisation’s latest map on the geographic distribution of CCHF, virological or serological evidence and vector presence of CCHF is universally present across India except J&K. However, the virus has been present only in animals.