India needs to sign up for life course immunization

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Right from the days of smallpox, vaccines were designed for all age groups. However, after the smallpox eradication and launch of an expanded programme on immunisation (EPI), there were efforts to increase vaccination for children.

But as the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that there is a need to take stock of the status of adult immunisation in the world.

What is the status of adult vaccination in India?

There have been incidents of India undertaking adult vaccination, like after the outbreak of Japanese encephalitis in 2005.

1. Limited research and data on the burden of vaccine-preventable diseases (VPDs) in adult age groups. 2. The National vaccine policy of India, 2011 had no mention of adult vaccination. 3. National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) paid no focus on adult vaccination.

Though Non-government professional groups like the Association of Physicians of India have released guidelines on adult vaccination, but these are only voluntary.

But now there is emerging scientific evidence on winning immunity and the need for booster doses in the adult age group. This has resulted in the global stakeholders agreeing to ‘the Immunization Agenda 2030’ which emphasises vaccination to all age groups.

What steps should be taken?

First, the mandate of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) should be expanded to include adult vaccination. An NTAGI sub-group on adult vaccination can be constituted.

Second, the VPD surveillance system and capacity to record, report and analyse data on the disease burden and immunisation coverage require to be strengthened.

Third, Boost research and development in academic institutions.

Fourth, initiate the roadmap for drafting India’s national adult vaccination policy.

Fifth, address the issues of supply chain and shortages of vaccines. Revive the public sector vaccine manufacturing units.

What should be the way forward?

It is time that policymakers take the decision on adult vaccination and empower adult citizens to make informed choices about vaccines. There is a need to focus on a universal immunization programme plus, which should include everyone and all citizens of India.

Source: This post is based on the article “India needs to sign up for life course immunization” posted in The Hindu on 10th November 2021.

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