The Indian government has urgently procured yellow fever vaccine from multinational companies after a severe shortage resulting in people being unable to travel to African and some South American countries.
Visas to Africa and tropical and sub-tropical South American countries can be obtained only after the applicant submits a certificate given by one of the country's 15 authorised vaccination centres.
"There was a shortage, but the government has imported the vaccine from multinational companies like Sanofi Pasteur and the stock has arrived on July 11," Director General of Health Services Jagdish Prasad admitted to IANS.
Earlier, the vaccine was manufactured at the Central Research Institute, Kasauli. But this stopped after the two machines it used for the purpose broke down.
The total requirement for the vaccine is around 10.5 million vials. While CRI, Kasauli used to manufacture around 4 million vials, the balance was met through imports, a senior health ministry official said, adding the institute was never prepared to handle the huge demand.
Utpal Kumar Chattopadhyay, a senior official at the Institute of Health and Public Hygiene Kolkata, one of the centres where the vaccine is administered, told IANS that the last shot was given on June 21.
Neelam Gupta of the Travel Safe Clinic, which is another such centre in Noida, near the capital said: "There has been a shortage for nearly one month now."
She said a shot of the vaccine at her clinic cost Rs 2,800 (against Rs.400 at a government-run facility). "But we will also administer the shot if somebody procures the vaccine from outside."
Yashpal Jain, a businessman who is scheduled to travel to Zambia and has been running from pillar to post to get the vaccine said: "There are four centres in Delhi and all of them have run out of the vaccine. I will wait for another 10 days and then try again."
Another group of people who have been hit are vacationers. Lalit Sharma, who had planned a summer holiday in South America, said: "There has been a severe shortage across the country. I have not been able to get the vaccine shot and hence have postponed the trip."
Yellow fever is an acute viral hemorrhagic disease. It is transmitted by the bite of the Aedes aegypti female mosquito and is found in tropical and subtropical areas in South America and in all of Africa, but not in Asia.
Apart from being important for personal protection, yellow fever vaccination and its proof is a condition of entry in many countries, especially for travellers who have recently arrived from a country in a yellow fever zone.
Failure to take the vaccination may get one past immigration, but would certainly mean quarantine for 10 days on return in a government hospital, experts said.
(Sreeparna Chakrabarty can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)