H1N1 Vaccine Ready, India Napping
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29 August 2009
New Delhi, India
By Rupali Mukherjee
Several Countries have Booked Millions of doses of Anti–Flu Shots. But India is Yet to Place its First Order with any Company – Foreign or Local
The first batches of swine flu vaccine have rolled out from Baxter Inc labs on Friday but there’s little to cheer for India. While the first supplies from Baxter went to the British health network, subsequent batches from Baxter and other pharma companies have been booked by countries such as US and UK which are stockpiling the vaccine to ward off a harsher bout of swine flu.
While huge quantities – 195 million and 90 million doses respectively are going to the US and UK –India is still miles from getting vaccines because the government has not entered into any prebooking contracts with Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline or any others.
More alarmingly, India also may not have its indigenous vaccine ready by February–March next year.
Neighbouring China has some 20–odd companies racing to get the vaccine in the market, with Sinovac Biotech perhaps the first company worldwide to complete clinical trials for influenza A vaccine.
The WHO said recently that countries in the northern hemisphere alone had ordered more than one billion doses of swine flu vaccine, sparking warnings about shortages, given the intense demand and production delays.
Giving It Their Best Shot
UK: Has booked 195m anti–H1N1 shots in all. Mass vaccinations to start by mid–October. 45m doses will be available at the start, followed by 20m doses every week
UK: Has booked 90m doses. Baxter to supply 30m, has begun delivery to govt China: Has booked 10m doses from Sinovac Biotech. Plans to inoculate 50% of urban population
France: 94m doses Mexico–40m doses India: Yet to book a single dose. Indian firms unlikely to produce vaccine before May next year
Will Retail Sale of Tamiflu be Allowed?
While drug controller general of India Surinder Singh has said the notification regarding the sale of oseltamivir through retail outlets was likely in 10 days, health ministry officials said Tamilfu would be available only through the public health system.
Developing an anti–flu vaccine (against the H1N1 virus) is the only way to protect people against the disease, which may become severe with the onset of winter and the even more dire possibility of the H1N1 virus mutating.
Indian health authorities have failed to move fast enough. The government has not only failed to make bookings overseas, it has not placed any orders with domestic manufacturers – Serum Institute, Panacea Biotec and Bharat Biotec which are developing the vaccine. (Cadila Pharma is also developing a vaccine in collaboration with US company Novavax).
Serum Institute executive director SS Jadhav told TOI, “No talks have been held with government procurement agencies regarding their plans of stockpiling the vaccine, including the quantity required and target group of population.”
Since companies do not have details about the government’s contingency plan, they aren’t sure about the quantities of vaccine they must produce.
“If this is not going to be a continuous programme (to immunize), industry will not invest. The cost should be recovered to keep the plant running to produce the vaccine, even though we are not keeping the profit in mind,” said a pharma company executive.
Interestingly, some countries in Southern America and Africa have contacted Serum to procure the vaccine, while it has also committed 10% of its production to the WHO.
The government has been tardy in its response from the beginning in tackling the disease, with its delayed response in installing thermal scanners at airports to screen H1N1 carriers, to its late reaction in roping in private sector to combat the virus.