Snehlata Shrivastav & Chinmayi Shalya, TNN | Jun 26, 2013, 02.56 AM IST
MUMBAI\NAGPUR: An acute shortage of yellow fever vaccine in the last few months has sent people scurrying to Mumbai from across the country. The vaccine is out of stock at most government centres, including Delhi, Cochin, Nagpur, Bangalore, Chennai and Goa among other places. The shortage has also forced the government to allow a private sector firm to sell the vaccine in the market, a move few are aware of. While the vaccine is sold by the private firm at five times the original rate, it has to taken to a government centre to be administered.
However, the shortage at government centres has brought those set to travel to South America and Africa, flocking to the Airport Health Organisation (AHO) at Mumbai airport, the only big centre with any stock of the vaccine. Travellers are queuing up 10-12 hours in advance to make it to the quota of 70 people vaccinated per day.
WHO norms make it mandatory for every foreigner travelling to 33 African and 11 South American countries to be vaccinated 10 days before their date of arrival, as ‘yellow fever’ is endemic there. The vaccine, which should ideally be available at all international airports and 18 other centers across the country, has gone out of stock everywhere except at the international airport Mumbai. Vaccination centres at Nagpur, Delhi, Panaji and Cochin confirmed the shortage. There are also reports of a shortage at Hyderabad and Ahmedabad for two months now.
A private company has already brought the vaccine to the market. “It is available in shops where instead of the government rate of Rs 300, it is priced at Rs 1,534. A person can bring it to the centre and we will administer it and issue a certificate,” said P M Gaikwad, airport health officer at Mumbai. The firm has already received one shipment of the vaccine. “A major part of the first shipment that arrived has already been provided to government institutions. We are expecting further shipments and are working to ensure that the vaccine is made available in required quantities as soon as possible,” said a spokesperson from Sanofi Pasteur, the firm which sourced the vaccine.
The vaccine was earlier distributed solely by the government to authorized centres across the country. The shortage started after production of the vaccine was halted two years ago at the Central Research Institute in Kasauli, Himachal Pradesh, the only manufacturing unit. In the last two months, various centres across India have reported a shortage of the vaccine. “The shortage wasn’t addressed in the beginning and now most centres have run out of stock,” said an official at one of the centres at Mumbai. The vaccine centre at Ballard Pier in Mumbai ran out of stock a couple of months ago, leaving the centre at the airport to face the rush.
The shortage has not only inconvenienced travellers by forcing them to come to Mumbai, but has allegedly opened up avenues for corruption. The health centre at Mumbai airport gives only 70 vaccinations per day on a first-come-first-serve basis and anxious travellers start queuing outside the centre from 2am. However, some travelers claimed there was a “VIP” queue if one paid Rs 2,500 for the vaccine. On June 24, the centre reportedly vaccinated 70 more people from the queue for an extra charge. People kept trickling in till 4pm, three hours after the scheduled vaccination time, paying extra for the vaccinations. A sailor, scheduled to set sail next week, had to pay the ‘extra charges’ despite standing in the queue since 4.30am at Mumbai. “I queued up at 4.30am and still I was 93rd in the queue,” said the sailor who didn’t want to be named. He said he was among the next 70 people who got the vaccination after paying Rs 2,500. A family of six said they got their vaccination without standing in the queue as their travel agent “had arranged it”. However, doctors at the centre refuted these charges.
Some travelers were forced to cancel their holiday plans due to the vaccine shortage. Dr Sanjay Marathe, a paediatrician from Nagpur, told TOI he was to travel to Tanzania on a holiday with his family but had to give up the idea as Hope Hospital, the only certified one in Nagpur to give the vaccine, didn’t have the vaccine.