Kavitha K, March 24, 2013, DHNS:
Are you planning an African safari this summer? A getaway to the Serengeti in Tanzania to film the wildebeest and stalk the Big Five? Be warned. Your plans could go very wrong. All because of a seemingly small yet significant detail called the yellow fever vaccine. Rather, the lack of it in the State’s Public Health Institute.
The Public Health Institute, Bangalore, the only designated centre in the State authorised to administer the vaccine, has been pleading ‘No Stock’ for two months now.
Worse, the ‘No Stock’ syndrome seems to apply only to the PHI, where a dose of the vaccine costs Rs 200. In the open market, pharmacists not only have adequate stock of the vaccine, they also sell a single dose at Rs 1,534.
Desperate travellers have little choice but to fork out a small fortune for the vaccine, which they then carry to the PHI which administers it.
Why isn’t PHI being proactive in procuring the much-in-demand vaccine? “Yes, the number of people asking for the yellow fever vaccine is high during the holiday season. We give nearly 100 vaccinations every Wednesday, but for two months, we have had no stock. The vaccine comes to us from Kasauli in Himachal Pradesh,” says Dr Jaikumar, deputy director and in-charge joint director, PHI Bangalore.
Has the PHI been following up the shortage issue with the Central Research Institute (CRI), Kasauli? “Of course, but I cannot pressurise them,” he adds.
Pharmacies not hit
Paucity in the PHI is contrasted by plentiful stocks in some pharmacies in the City. Nearly 30-40 vaccines are sold a month during the holiday season in these pharmacies. They too say the vaccine is in short supply, but manage to get it on demand. A well-known pharmacy on Residency Road was able to procure three doses of the vaccine Stanmaril, manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur SA, based in Lyon, France, and imported and marketed in India by Sanofi Pasteur India Pvt Ltd, Navi Mumbai, in less than 12 hours of placing a request, at Rs 1,534 a dose.
“Perhaps they have unsold stocks,” suggests Dr Jaikumar.
Those who have air tickets booked and safari schedules blocked prefer buying the vaccine for a hefty price at a pharmacy rather than bite their nails in frustration after making daily calls to the PHI to check on the availability of the vaccine.
“Every time I call the PHI, I am told, ‘No vaccine. We do not know when it will come’. The PHI website has no status updates on the availability of the vaccine,” says Sarah C, who is travelling with her family to Kenya in April.
The vaccination, valid for 10 years once taken, has a 20-day incubation period, which makes it necessary for first-time travellers to plan their vaccination schedule.
Failure to take the vaccination may get one past immigration, but would certainly mean quarantine for 10 days, on return, in a government hospital.
A travel agent said she has been advising her clients to take the vaccine in Mumbai or Chennai.
Interestingly, not many travel agents, including the biggies in the business, are aware of the availability of the yellow fever vaccine in pharmacies in the City.
Their best bet, if the PHI is out of stock, is to refer clients to the King Institute of Preventive Medicine, Guindy, Chennai, or the Institute of Preventive Medicine, Hyderabad.
“Not just the PHI, all designated government health centres across the country have no stock,” says Dr Jaikumar.
While the Institute of Preventive Medicine, Hyderabad, did say on the phone that they were out of stock, a phone call to King Institute in Chennai was answered with, “Yes, we have some vaccines. We cannot tell you how many. You need to come here and find out.”
Going by the growing requests to pharmacies and PHI’s ‘wait and see’ approach, holiday-goers have little choice but to swallow the cynicism and stretch the wallet so that they can board their flight in peace.
Comment: As stated in my last blog the shortage has now spread to the entire country, including the private sector, and the vaccine is no longer available anywhere, in government / private sector in any significant quantities.