The Indian government may not have sufficient funds to immunise children under the age of five years with the oral polio vaccine (OPV) in the next round of vaccination. As a result, the Union health ministry has cancelled the mass polio vaccination programme indefinitely, which was earlier slated to be conducted in February, 2018, a report in the Print said.

The lower domestic production of OPV coupled with a 100 percent increase in the prices of Inactivated Polio vaccine (IPV) has led to a shortage in the required polio vaccines in the country, due to which the immunisation programme has been cancelled.

Except for the three states of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and KeralInactivatea (which have he required stocks of polio vaccines), the Indian government communicated to all other states on January 18 that the next schedule of immunisaion stands cancelled.

The Health ministry has issued a statement denying any shortage in the OPVs and reasoning that it is due to the more stringent testing policy of the OPVs that there is a delay in the vaccination. The ministry said that in order to ensure a safe and quality vaccination of children, the testing of bivalent oral polio vaccine has been made more strict and each batch of the vaccine will be soon sent to all the states from the National Testing laboratory for the next round of immunisation.

But the official sources in the health minstry told the Print that the governmen is actually trying to procure sufficient doses of OPV in addition to IPV, which is consuming time.

Budget crunch a reason of the vaccination delay?

In fact, India has sought financial help from GAVI, which is an international organisation running on public-private partnership that supports vaccination of children across the globe. GAVI, has offered a support of $40 million to help adress the problem of IPV shortage in India for the period 2019-2021, a report GAVI's support for IPV for India mentions.

It even talks about the apprehensions of re-emergence of polio virus in India due to the vaccine shortage, which may even pose bigger threat to the goal of polio eradication globally.

In addition to polio vaccination, GAVI is upporting the other immunisation programmes run by the Indian health ministry as well.

An official of the health ministry has said that the government has sought the help of GAVI on a 50-50 cost sharing basis, considering the cost of each IPV dose has spiralled from Rs 61 to Rs 147 in 2019 and may evem go higher.

In case of OPV, the government was relying heavily on the domestic production, but it recently cancelled the manufacturer's license of one of the companies Bio-Med since their vaccines were contaminated with Type-2 polio virus. Now, only two companies, Bharat Bioech and Panacea Biotech which supplies OPV to the health ministry.

The officials say that the extensive testing protocols added by the government and limited supply has also contributed to the shortage in vaccines and hence delayed the immunisation programme.