Why there is an acute shortage of influenza vaccine in Mumbai

Experts say doctors must exhibit caution while administering vaccine so that high-risk category isn’t deprived of it; major chemists, hospitals are struggling to replenish stock due to high demand

As the number of H1N1 cases continue to escalate across Mumbai, paediatricians claim that parents have hit the panic button resulting in acute shortage of the influenza vaccine. It has been learnt that most city chemists and hospitals are struggling to replenish the fast depleting stock.

Commenting on the high demand for the vaccine, priced at Rs 735 per vial, experts asserted that though the vaccine is a vital preventive measure against swine flu, it must be administered wisely to ensure that those falling under the high-risk category are not deprived of it.

Commenting on the high-risk category and availability of the vaccine, experts from Indian Academy of Paediatrics (IAP) said that the spread of H1N1 and its effects were far less worrisome than during its outbreak in 2008. They said since the virus did not mutate, the widespread panic among citizens was unnecessary.

“(While) one can’t blame laymen for rushing to get vaccinated, the responsibility of administrating the dosage lies with doctors. Children with chronic heart, lung or kidney diseases, asthma, poor immunity and below the age of two are highly susceptible to the virus. Secondly, the immunity provided by the vaccine lasts only 12 months.

This makes it vital for high-risk category to avail the dosage first. Doctors must vaccinate people carefully, keeping in mind the poor supply,” said Dr Rohit Agarwal, co-chairperson of Advisory Committee on Vaccine and Immunisation Practices, IAP. He added that the vaccine is primarily manufactured in France, and there are limited companies that have units in India.

‘Need more’
Chemists across the city confirmed the acute shortage of the vaccine, and claimed that it has been months since some of them last replenished the stock from the distributors.

“Despite high demand, we don’t have the stock. Distributors are turning away all those requesting more than 10 vials. Most of us are able to procure just 2 to 3 vials, which is insufficient, keeping in mind the growing demand,” said a pharmacist near Bhagwati Hospital.

Expert speak
“Influenza vaccine offers protection against H1N1 and a few other strains of flu. However, it only reduces the risk of a person contracting the virus. It doesn’t make him/her 100 per cent immune to H1N1.

As compared to the 2008 pandemic, there have been minimal hospitalisations and not too many paediatric cases needed critical care this year. But people this time rushed to avail the vaccine in large numbers, resulting in acute shortage, especially for the high-risk category,” said Dr Jesal Sheth, paediatrician, Fortis Hospital.

Alarming figures

375
The swine flu death toll in Maharashtra, according to the Union Health Ministry’s data

4,340
Number of people having contracted the H1N1 virus in Maharashtra

1,994
The death toll due to swine flu across the country till yesterday

Rs 735
Cost of a single vial of influenza vaccine

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