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Stomach infection shield for all

New Delhi, July 3: India will add three new vaccines in the universal immunisation programme to protect children across the country from rotavirus, rubella and polio infections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said today, announcing initiatives long awaited by public health experts.

Modi, in a statement issued through the Press Information Bureau, said the vaccines against rotavirus and rubella would expedite India’s progress towards reducing child mortality while the introduction of the injectable vaccine against polio would help meet global polio eradication targets.

He also announced that a vaccine designed to protect adults from Japanese encephalitis infections would be introduced in certain high-priority districts in India that have experienced encephalitis outbreaks for the past several years.

“The introduction of the life-saving vaccines will play a key role in reducing infant and childhood mortality,” Modi said. “(These) vaccines are already available through private practitioners to those who can afford them.”

The universal immunisation programme currently provides free oral polio vaccine (OPV) and vaccines against measles, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, haemophilus influenzae B, and hepatitis B.

But the vaccine against rubella and an inactivated injectable polio vaccine (IPV) have been available through private practitioners to households that could afford them. Sections of public health experts and paediatricians have for years been urging the government to expand the universal immunisation programme to cover both rubella and IPV.

A panel of experts that advise the government on immunisation had earlier recommended the introduction of a rubella vaccine, IPV and a rotavirus vaccine to protect infants and young children from potentially life-threatening stomach infections. The health ministry estimates that diarrhoea caused by rotavirus kills nearly 80,000 children and leads to a million hospitalisations each year.

The government has decided to introduce an indigenous rotavirus vaccine developed through a partnership between public-funded academic institutions and a private biotechnology company.

A senior health ministry official said the ministry is now working on the logistics of introducing the new vaccines. “We expect the rubella will be the first to be rolled out, followed by the IPV, then the rotavirus vaccine,” the official said.