Fact-check: The Print and The Telegraph spread dangerous lies about Polio vaccine in India

"Vaccines save lives- they're good, but that doesn't keep cheap propaganda pushers from spreading fears that may keep people away from vaccines because it gives them a chance to blame the politicians they hate or help some industries make money"

On the 24th of January, 2019, propaganda website The Print published a story headlined “India doesn’t have polio vaccine for the next round of immunisations”. The article asserted that the “government has postponed indefinitely the next polio immunisation, on 3 February, as India is facing an acute shortage of both kinds of vaccines — OPV and IPV”.

The Print article

The Print article basically painted a doomsday picture of India’s Polio Vaccination scenario asserting that India does not have sufficient Polio vaccines for its citizens. It said, “Three senior officials in the health ministry confirmed to ThePrint that the ministry is trying to end the shortage. It expects to get enough OPVs by March and Inactivated Polio Vaccines (IPV) by May, an official from the ministry’s immunisation cell said”.

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The Print asserted that India is suffering a shortage of both IPV and OPV vaccines and that India has a shortage of OPV because the license of Bio-Med was cancelled last year due to contaminated vaccines.

Regarding the IPV vaccine, The Print article asserts that India doesn’t have enough money to buy the vaccines. It quotes yet another anonymous health ministry official who allegedly said, “The quotations to buy IPV sent by suppliers this year were higher by 80 per cent against last year,” said the official quoted above. We have applied to receive help from Gavi in the form of subsidised vaccines. We have asked for 50 per cent of our total requirements”.

Twitter user @WrongDoc, who is a doctor himself trashed The Print’s reportage with evidence. First, he pointed out how The Print had included the Health Ministry’s version later but refused to apologise for their misreportage.

The Government of India had promptly responded to The Print article and trashed their report threadbare. However, aside from just adding the clarification to their article, The Print neither changed their clickbaity headline nor apologised for their fearmongering.

The government, denying any shortage of OPV or IPV, in their response, said:

“As far as polio national immunization days (NID) is concerned, the required quantity of bivalent Oral Polio Vaccine (bOPV) has already been secured for the programme. However, to ensure availability of safe and quality vaccine to our children during NID, the testing of bOPV is made more stringent and the same will be dispatched to states for public use after the clearance from national testing laboratory for each batch and Polio NID will be held soon (sic),” the ministry said, without specifying a date.

“Regarding Inactivated Polio Vaccine (IPV), there is neither shortage of IPV nor any shortage of funds for its procurement for Universal Immunization Programme (UIP) in the country…Confronted with steep hike in prices of IPV, India approached Gavi for partial support for further procurements, as India is also a Gavi eligible country and the same has been agreed to by Gavi Board.”

The government has said that it would take longer to check the vaccines for quality clearance. This is because earlier, there was a scare that the polio vaccines had been contaminated.

WrongDoc alluded to another piece that scaremongered about the Polio vaccines. This was published in The Telegraph in November 2018.

The Telegraph article

WrongDoc asserted, rightly so, that the Telegraph article not only paints an incorrect picture of India approaching GAVI but also, plays shameless politics by equating it with the Sardar Patel statue.

WrongDoc explained that India approaching GAVI is not because it went to it with a “begging bowl” or because it did not have the funds to buy the vaccines, but to bargain a better bulk-price for the vaccines.

Gavi is an international organisation which is a global Vaccine Alliance, bringing together public and private sectors to create equal access to new and underused vaccines for children living in the world’s poorest countries. GAVI was created in the year 2000. In fact, India is a member donor to GAVI. GAVI also makes buyers’ group and helps countries negotiate a better bulk-price.

WrongDoc also gave an interesting analogy to explain the situation. He said, “So, saying ‘Why should India approach cheaper price from Sanofi through GAVI when they already spent 3000Cr Rs on Statue of unity’ is as stupid as saying ‘If you bought a BMW, why are you trying to buy that suit on sale prices? Why don’t you pay full price?’ “.

After busting the blatant lies and propaganda being peddled by The Print and The Telegraph, @WrongDoc proceeded to explain what this fearmongering achieves and why certain players insist on spreading fake news regarding the Polio vaccines.

The doctor hinted that the fear-mongering about the contaminated polio vaccines could be to take an Indian company out of the race and instead, benefit some French giants.

He said that India’s polio budget is estimated to be around $47 Million in 2017. To get a piece of that to buy and to drive out smaller players from the polio vaccine business, giants and big-pharma scaremonger about the quality of the vaccines, the supply of the vaccines and even spread propaganda that stops the government from driving a hard bargain, like in this case. This proves as a double-edged sword. Gets the big-pharma their share of the business and also, make the government look bad in the process.

He said the “serial liars” help big-pharma fill up their coffers while hurting the cause of vaccines.

“Vaccines save lives- they’re good, but that doesn’t keep cheap propaganda pushers from spreading fears that may keep people away from vaccines because it gives them a chance to blame the politicians they hate or help some industries make money”, he said.

It is indeed worrisome how big media like The Print, which is run by the Editors Guild chief Shekhar Gupta, no less and The Telegraph spread rumours and lies about the Polio vaccine. The rumourmongering may cause serious damage and put young lives at risk.

Till the time this article was published, neither The Telegraph nor The Print had retracted their story.


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