India to expand use of pentavalent vaccine after safety thumbs-up

The outcry in India over the safety of the pentavalent vaccine sparked the Supreme Court and government committees to look into deaths that have occurred following immunization. This week, one committee reported the vaccine is safe, and another recommended a scale-up of the immunization program.

Investigations began after reports linked the vaccine--which is made by Serum Institute of India--to the deaths of more than 20 children and many more adverse events. The National Adverse Events Following Immunization Committee looked into the incidents, but it failed to find a causal relationship between the vaccine and the deaths. Kerala, one of the first Indian states to rollout the vaccine, told the committee it was only concerned about the role of the shot in one instance, and overall it is having a positive effect.

"We cannot afford withdrawing the vaccine from the state just because one post mortem report had raised some doubts. In fact, we are sure that this immunization has brought down infant deaths considerably. It was existing in the private sector for the past 10 years. The controversies cropped up only when it was introduced in the government sector free of cost," director of health services Dr. N. Sreedhar told Times of India. Kerala also submitted a report to the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization, which this week called for more widespread use of the pentavalent vaccine.

GAVI Alliance CEO Dr. Seth Berkley welcomed the push to expand the immunization program beyond the 9 states it already targets. "Expanding access to pentavalent vaccines will play a key role averting the deaths associated with Hib pneumonia and meningitis, and liver cancer," Berkley said. The committee findings come weeks after Vietnam lifted its ban on the pentavalent vaccine, which it sources from a Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) subsidiary, Crucell. Public resistance to the vaccine remains, though. Greater Kashmir reports the deaths of babies who received the vaccine prompted protests late last week.

- read the Times of India article
- here's the GAVI release
- check out the protest news

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