On January 24, 2019, The Print published a rather alarming report saying that India doesn’t have polio vaccine for the next round of immunization. The report said that the country is facing acute shortage of polio vaccines, and due to that reason, the Modi government has indefinitely postponed the next polio immunization on February 3. According to The Print, there shortage of both types of vaccines, OPV and IPV ( Oral Poliovirus Vaccine and Inactivated Poliovirus Vaccine, which is given by injection).
The report quotes a letter purportedly written by The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to the states. The report by The Print claims that the letter said, “Due to unavoidable circumstances, it has been decided to postpone the programme for the time being.”
The report said that Indian government is facing shortage of polio vaccine due to shortage of funds, along with lower domestic production and longer testing requirements. It says that there is shortage OPV because government cancelled license of one of the manufacturers as their vaccines were found to be contaminated with type 2 poliovirus, and therefore there is one less manufacturer of the vaccine in the country. For shortage of IPV, the reason given by The Print is that government’s budget fell short by around ₹280 crore due to almost 100% rise in prices. It further added that India has approached Gavi, an international organization involved in vaccination across the world, for funding.
The Print report was soon used by the opposition camp to attack the government.
Congress leader Ahmed Patel tweeted that this is a huge setback to India’s vaccination programme, and government’s failure to allocate substantial funds is the reason behind it.
Acute shortage of polio vaccines & indefinite deferring of vaccination date is a huge setback to India’s sustained efforts to eradicate this disease
Govt’s failure to allocate substantial funds is one of the key reasons
Their focus must be on delivery rather than publicity
— Ahmed Patel (@ahmedpatel) January 24, 2019
Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani compared the costs of Statue of Unity and Kumbh Mela with the reported shortage in polio vaccine budget.
Statue of unity:3,000cr
However,a 280cr budget deficit will deprive infants from their next round of Polio Vaccination.
PM Modiji, who is endangering lives of infants,can only hold an irrational & unscientific vision for future of India! https://t.co/qWWheRFjuT
— Jignesh Mevani (@jigneshmevani80) January 24, 2019
Reacting to the report, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare released a clarification at the evening on January 24, saying that the reports of shortage of polio vaccine in India are incorrect. The government clarified that there is no shortage of OPV and IPV in the country.
The press release adds that the required quantity of bivalent Oral Polio Vaccine (bOPV) has already been secured for the polio national immunization days. “Government has not postponed the NID indefinitely, as wrongly reported in the media”, said the release.
The ministry also said that there is neither any shortage of IPV nor any shortage of funds for its procurement, as claimed by The Print. The statement notes that India has already eliminated polio, and the IPV was introduced to maintain the polio-free status per global guidelines, as Polio has not been eliminated from few countries in the world.
The government also clarified involvement of Gavi, saying that all Gavi eligible countries are extended support for vaccines by the organisation. The government has approached Gavi for partial support in future procurements of IPV after its price rise, as India is eligible for support from the organisation, the ministry informed.
Therefore, the report published by The Print was fake, as the government has clarified that there is no shortage of polio vaccine in the country, and the immunisation programme has not been postponed indefinitely. They have updated their article with the clarification from the ministry, but the fake claims that they have made in the report are still there.