July 20, 2024

Lukmaan IAS

A Blog for IAS Examination

INDIGENOUS HPV VACCINE, THE RHETORIC, AND THE REALITY

THE CONTEXT: The discourse surrounding the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination in India has recently intensified, focusing on its role in preventing cervical cancer. Despite vigorously promoting universal immunization for girls, questions remain about these vaccines’ necessity, timing, and pricing. This article delves into the complexities of HPV vaccine development, the impact of patent laws, and the economic and ethical considerations surrounding the push for widespread immunization.

THE ISSUES:

  • Efficacy and Necessity of Universal Vaccination: The necessity of universal HPV vaccination is questionable, given that only a few strains of HPV are associated with cervical cancer. It points out that while most women who die of cervical cancer are HPV-positive, most HPV-positive individuals do not develop cancer. This raises doubts about the need for universal versus selective vaccination for high-risk groups.
  • Declining Cervical Cancer Rates: Data from the Population Based Cancer Registries (PBCR) of India and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) indicate a declining trend in cervical cancer prevalence globally and in India, regardless of vaccine coverage. This trend questions the timing and urgency of pushing for universal HPV vaccination.
  • Moral and Social Concerns: The moral and social problems associated with targeting pre-puberty girls for HPV vaccination are underscored. It suggests that this approach is based on Western assumptions about teenage promiscuity, which may not align with Indian societal norms and could be seen as patriarchal. The fact that men can also be carriers of HPV adds to the complexity of this issue.
  • Timing and Development of Indigenous Vaccine: The Serum Institute of India (SII) developed Cervavac, an indigenous HPV vaccine, nearly two decades after the introduction of patented HPV vaccines in the Global North. This delay is attributed to multinational patent monopolies and the globalization of U.S. patent laws through the TRIPS agreement. It questions why it took so long to develop a local vaccine despite India’s capabilities in vaccine production.
  • Pricing Strategy and Affordability: Cervavac’s pricing is a significant concern. Despite being promoted as an affordable vaccine, its market price remains high, making it unaffordable for many. It points out that the infrastructure and funding support for Cervavac should have reduced production costs, yet the pricing strategy seems to prioritize high margins over affordability. This is problematic in a country with low insurance penetration and high out-of-pocket health expenditures.
  • Lack of Competition: The unavailability of other competing domestic HPV vaccines is another issue. Several vaccine candidates from other Indian companies were in the pipeline but have not reached the market. This lack of competition has likely contributed to the high price of Cervavac. It suggests that more competition could have driven prices down, making the vaccine more accessible.

THE WAY FORWARD:

  • Enhanced Public Awareness and Education Campaigns: Implement comprehensive public awareness campaigns to educate the population about the benefits and safety of HPV vaccination, addressing cultural stigmas and misinformation. WHO and CDC recommend public education as a critical component of vaccination programs to increase acceptance and coverage. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) emphasizes the importance of clear, evidence-based communication to dispel myths and encourage vaccination.
  • Inclusion of HPV Vaccine in the National Immunization Program: Integrate the HPV vaccine into India’s Universal Immunization Programme (UIP) to ensure broader and equitable access. Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance supports the inclusion of HPV vaccines in national immunization schedules to improve coverage and reduce cervical cancer rates. Indian health experts advocate for integrating HPV vaccines into the UIP to leverage existing infrastructure and improve vaccination rates.
  • Price Regulation and Subsidies: Implement government regulations to control the pricing of HPV vaccines and provide subsidies to make them affordable for all socio-economic groups. WHO and UNICEF recommend price regulation and subsidies for essential vaccines to ensure affordability and accessibility. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation previously funded vaccine development and supports pricing strategies that prioritize public health over profit.
  • Promotion of Domestic Competition: Encourage and support other domestic pharmaceutical companies to develop and market HPV vaccines to increase competition and reduce prices. National Institute of Science Communication and Information Resources (CSIR-NISCAIR) suggests fostering a competitive environment to enhance innovation and reduce costs. The Indian government can provide grants and incentives to domestic companies to expedite the development of alternative HPV vaccines.
  • Targeted Vaccination Programs for High-Risk Groups: Implement targeted vaccination programs for high-risk groups, such as women with a family history of cervical cancer and individuals with weakened immune systems. CDC and the American Cancer Society recommend targeted vaccination for high-risk populations to prevent HPV-related cancers effectively. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) supports selective vaccination strategies to optimize resource allocation and public health outcomes.

THE CONCLUSION:

While introducing the Indigenous HPV vaccine Cervavac marks a significant milestone in India’s fight against cervical cancer, the issues of high pricing, lack of competition, and the ethical implications of universal vaccination need a thorough examination. Addressing these concerns is crucial to ensure that the benefits of immunization are accessible to all, particularly in a country with significant health disparities and economic challenges.

UPSC PAST YEAR QUESTIONS:

Q.1 What is the research in developmental achievements in applied biotechnology? How will these achievements help to uplift the poor sections of the society? 2021

Q.2 What do you understand by nanotechnology and how is it helping in health sector? 2020

Q.3 Why is there so much activity in biotechnology in our country? How has this activity benefitted the field of biopharma? 2018

Q.4 Stem cell therapy is gaining popularity in India to treat various medical conditions, including Leukaemia, Thalassemia, damaged cornea, and several burns. Describe briefly what stem cell therapy is and what its advantages are over other treatments. 2017

MAINS PRACTICE QUESTION:

Q.1 Discuss the implications of the recent push for universal HPV vaccination in India, considering the declining trends in cervical cancer prevalence, the timing and pricing of indigenous vaccines, and the socio-cultural context. Critically analyze the arguments for and against universal versus selective vaccination strategies in the Indian context.

SOURCE:

https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/indigenous-hpv-vaccine-the-rhetoric-and-the-reality/article68382379.ece

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