ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Politics of Immunisation

The health ministry's move on HPV vaccine feasibility is ill-advised.

The union health ministry has asked the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) to examine the feasibility of introducing the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine in the country’s universal immunisation programme. The NTAGI has been given three months for this task. The HPV vaccine, which is supposed to protect against cervical cancer in girls and women, is generally given between the ages of 9 and 14 years and is presently available in the private health services sector. However, this vaccine has been at the centre of controversies and debates for long and a large number of public health and research activists representing a number of organisations have written to the union health minister flagging issues about its safety and capability. The health ministry’s directive to the NTAGI is rather surprising in view of a parliamentary committee’s report on the alleged irregularities in a so-called clinical trial of HPV vaccines on tribal girls in 2010 and an ongoing hearing on it before the Supreme Court.

It is pertinent here to note the 72nd report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare. In 2010 it had delved into allegations that the trials conducted by an American body, the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH), for the HPV vaccine on tribal girls in Khammam District of the then Andhra Pradesh (they were also conducted in Gujarat) had led to seven deaths and serious side-effects in others. Not only has it strongly indicted the manner in which the trials were conducted and the roles of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) but some of its statements have a direct bearing on the issue at hand. It says

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