Days after RSS wing letter, India decides against cancer vaccine

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India has decided not to move on the introduction of a cervical cancer vaccine in its universal immunisation programme

The decision comes days after Swadeshi Jagran Manch – the economic wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh – wrote to prime minister Narendra Modi against its introduction.

According to a 2015 article in the International  Journal of Women’s Health, “Every year in India, 122,844 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 67,477 die from the disease. India has a population of 432.2 million women aged 15 years and older who are at risk of developing cancer. It is the second most common cancer in women aged 15–44 years. India also has the highest age standardized incidence of cervical cancer in South Asia at 22, compared to 19.2 in Bangladesh, 13 in Sri Lanka, and 2.8 in Iran.”

A subcommittee of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) had recommended that vaccine against the Human Papilloma virus should be introduced in the UIP.

The recommendation is still under consideration by NTAGI but the government has decided not to wait for the highest technical body on vaccines to take a call on the matter. HPV vaccine according to health ministry sources is off the plate at least for the moment.

Human Papilloma Virus is actually a group of more than 150 viruses that cause papilloma or warts in parts of the body, including genital areas. They spread by skin-to-skin contact and are responsible for a number of diseases, including cancers. HPV, as some doctors put it, is a necessary cause for cervical cancer but not sufficient cause. WHO 2017 position  paper on HPV identifies the primary target population as girls aged between 9–14 years, prior to becoming sexually active.

Swadeshi Jagran  Manch (SJM) wrote to prime minister Narendra Modi last month citing safety and cost concerns vis a vis the HPV vaccine. In the letter SJM National Co-convener Ashwani Mahajan wrote: “It is our concern that this programme will divert scarce resources from more worthwhile health initiatives diverting it to this vaccine of doubtful utility and that its adverse effects will erode confidence in the national immunization programme and thereby expose children unnecessarily to the risk of more serious vaccine-preventable disease.”

The vaccine is marketed by two companies, Merck and Glaxosmithkline in India. It costs less than $5.

“Swadeshi Jagran Manch requests you to stop this move to introduce Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine in India and we recommend the strongest action against groups that pervert science, which brings ignominy to the scientific community in the country and sells the country to vested interests,” the letter added.