The Delhi High Court has admitted a public interest petition filed by a group of medical experts led by a former health secretary against the central government’s plans to introduce “irrational vaccines” into the national immunisation programme without proper epidemiological studies.
In an application for interim directive filed last week, retired health secretary K B Saxena and others sought a stay on the official move to introduce “Hepatitis B, Pneumococcal, Hib and pentavalent vaccines in the universal immunisation programme” until requisite studies were carried out by an independent body without conflict of interest.
An expert committee headed by Indian Council of Medical Research chief V M Katoch has recently been set up to examine the recommendation of the health ministry’s National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) to introduce “pentavalent” or five-in-one vaccines under the government’s immunisation drive.
The first meeting of the Katoch committee is slated to take place next week.
The petitioners have complained that “vaccines which are of questionable utility, expensive and also carry possible side-effects are sought to be introduced at the cost of public exchequer at the behest of WHO (World Health Organization) and vaccine manufacturers”.
According to petitioners, evidence from several countries does not favour the introduction of pentavalent vaccines in the country. “Pentavalent vaccine was introduced in Bhutan but withdrawn after eight deaths in October 2009. Earlier, it was withdrawn from Sri Lanka after 25 serious adverse reactions and five deaths….Given the grave real risks from this new vaccine, it is humbly prayed that introduction of Pentavalent be stayed till a thorough evaluation is complete which includes evaluation of data of strain replacement from Canada, diabetes in Finland and deaths in Bhutan”, the petition stated.
The petitioners have also sought judicial intervention for the formulation of a “rule-based rational vaccine policy”.
They say the policy should prescribe mandatory analysis and epidemiological studies which need to be carried out before a vaccine is sought to be introduced into the public health system and will do so in a transparent manner and allow for public and scientific scrutiny.