Delhi swine flu outbreak: Doctors allege no preventive vaccination drive was carried out by Centre or state in 2018

As Delhi suffers in the grip of a massive outbreak of swine flu, the medical director of one of the biggest government hospitals in the national capital has told Firstpost that no preventive vaccination drive was undertaken in the city by the Central government in 2018.

Kangkan Acharyya February 09, 2019 19:15:10 IST
Delhi swine flu outbreak: Doctors allege no preventive vaccination drive was carried out by Centre or state in 2018
  • Dr Kishore Singh said vaccination drives to prevent the spread of swine flu usually take place in the months of September and October

  • The preventive vaccination drive, said Dr Singh, is initiated by the Centre

  • However, many state governments including Maharashtra have been conducting free swine flu vaccination drives for high risk patients since 2015

As Delhi suffers in the grip of a massive outbreak of swine flu, the medical director of one of the biggest government hospitals in the national capital has told Firstpost that no preventive vaccination drive was undertaken in the city by the central government in 2018.

Dr Kishore Singh, who heads the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital, said vaccination drives to prevent the spread of swine flu usually take place in the months of September and October each year. "But this was not done in Delhi last year," he said.

He added that it is crucial that vaccination efforts stick to the seasons they are intended for. "September and October are the months for swine flu vaccination. After that, vaccines are no longer useful for that particular cycle. There is no time left for preventive vaccination this year as swine flu season has already started and treatment is the only option," said Dr Singh.

Delhi swine flu outbreak Doctors allege no preventive vaccination drive was carried out by Centre or state in 2018

Representational image. Reuters

Delhi health minister Satyendra Jain has, however, ordered free and compulsory vaccination to health workers and high-risk patients.

The preventive vaccination drive, said Dr Singh, is initiated by the Centre. "Vaccination to prevent swine flu is a programme which is set and provided for by the Centre. The state only follows the guidelines set by the Centre. Last year the programme did not take place," he added.

Sources in the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital, who wished to remain anonymous, said even health workers of the hospital were not vaccinated this time around.

Neither Dr Singh, nor any of the medicos he knows are aware of the reason why the programme was not undertaken in 2018. However, in the year 2015, the Delhi state government had conducted a vaccination drive without initiation by the Centre to prevent the outbreak of swine flu in the capital city.

However, Dr Nandita Mundeja, the Director General of Health Services, said there is no pronounced guideline in the country for mass vaccination drives against swine flu.

"If there were a national policy for vaccination, then large scale procurement and supply of vaccines would have been done," she said.

As per guidelines followed in India, high risk patients such as pregnant women, persons with chronic illness and co-morbid conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and those with impaired immune system, are to be vaccinated against swine flu. However, in 2017, a high-level committee constituted by the Ministry of Health and Family, faced with the lack of availability of vaccines in the country, had suggested that mass vaccination against swine flu was not required.

Significantly, the committee also suggested that individuals above the age of 65 and children between six months and eight years of age should also be vaccinated.

Officials in the Delhi Health department that this reporter spoke to shifted the responsibility of the preventive vaccination drive on the Centre. However, many state governments including Maharashtra have been conducting free swine flu vaccination drives for high risk patients since 2015.

Delhi swine flu outbreak Doctors allege no preventive vaccination drive was carried out by Centre or state in 2018

Representational image. AFP

Ashok Agarwal, a lawyer and health activist in Delhi, feels Arvind Kejriwal's government should have carried out a vaccination drive with or without the Centre's nod. "The callousness in swine flu prevention does no favours to the Kejriwal government's claims of having brought about a revolution in health policy," he said.

The swine flu prevention vaccine is known to secure 60 to 70 percent of the population it is administered to, in a year. As many as 1,019 people have been affected by swine flu in Delhi this year, with one dead. Last year, only 22 people had been affected in January and February in Delhi.

Those running private hospitals say that the number of deaths this year would be far more than what government data shows.

Max Super Speciality Hospital in Patparganj has allegedly recorded two deaths in the month of January itself. Deputy medical superintendent of the private hospital, Dr Amiya Kumar Verma, said the two patients who died deteriorated due to pre-existing health complications and not just swine flu. "Though the patients were swine flu affected there were also other health issues that aggravated their condition," he said.

Dr Swapna Paul, who has been appointed nodal officer for the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Hospital when it comes to sharing information about the outbreak with the press said Delhi government hospitals have been providing free medication to swine flu patients along with N-95 masks. The hospital has admitted four swine flu patients in the last one month and has recorded no deaths yet.

Health workers complain that there is a shortage in supply of N-95 masks, which are anti-pollution and protect the wearer from diseases and hazardous elements in the air. Navarun Joseph, a health worker in a private hospital in Delhi said, "An N-95 mask expires after 15 days. But due to scarcity of supply we often have to wait for the next supply without any protection."

Sachin Sharma, proprietor of a firm that manufactures the N-95 mask blamed the sudden rise in demand for the paucity. "Earlier only health workers used N-95 masks. But now common people also have started using it to protect themselves from pollution, as a result of which we have seen a five-fold increase in demand," he said.

Doctors in the private sector said masks are not the only aid that is in short supply. Amid the debacle over vaccination is the non-availability the most integral component in the market: vaccines.

"Because the vaccination season is over, the need is not being felt acutely. Had there been enough vaccines in the market, we could have begun a new drive now and hoped for it to take effect," said Dr KK Agarwal, a cardiologist.

Wholesalers too admitted to the acute shortage. "There is limited availability of multi-dose vaccines which can be used to vaccinate a number of patients. But many doctors do not prefer it, as it has to be used within seven days of opening the seal. There is also a shortage of single dose vaccines meant for adults," said Manoj Nainwal, a wholesaler of vaccines in Delhi.

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