We keep hearing of reports that state a child has fallen seriously ill or even died after receiving polio drops. For the most part, these stories have been dismissed as hype and criticised by health experts for creating unnecessary fear among parents. It has been stated the children were probably already sick and died of other causes.
But an alarming new report, the details of which have been published by this newspaper, questions this assumption and asks if the vaccine produced by an international, non-profit company, the Global Alliance for Vaccination and Immunisation, based in Geneva, is truly safe. The vaccine is being used as part of the country’s Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI). A report by the Prime Minister’s Inquiry Commission on the EPI questions the reliability of the vaccine and recommends a suspension of the polio vaccination campaign until the matter can be investigated in detail. The whole affair amounts to a disaster. GAVI supplies Rs2.4 billion for the Rs26 billion EPI programme. But the report asks if the high-cost vaccines are being bought to benefit GAVI, even though cheaper vaccines from both India and within the country are available. GAVI vaccines, we learn, have also come under scrutiny in a host of other countries, even though the company is supported by a host of reputable international organisations, including the WHO.
The situation is a deeply disturbing one. Any suspension of the polio campaign will create even greater problems at a time when the rate of incidents of polio is soaring. It is, however, clear that we need to ensure vaccines are safe. If doubts persist about this, there will be an even greater reluctance to allow children to be inoculated. The issue of substandard vaccines has come up before. There have been accusations of official corruption in the whole affair. This time around, it needs to be properly investigated so that the full truth can come out and the future of our children secured by making a reliable vaccine available to them.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 18th, 2011.