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Bio-Med meningitis vaccines fail quality tests

Bio-Med Pvt. Ltd, the company placed under question in the recent polio vaccine scare, is under further scrutiny — this time for a mandatory meningitis vaccine.

 Meningitis Image ID: 41854996 (L)The company was barred from producing commercial products after batches of a polio vaccine sold by the company were found to contain live type-2 virus. A temporary licence was granted to the company in order to produce two batches of meningitis vaccines.

The vaccines were requisitioned by the Health Ministry in order to cover some 200,000 Haj pilgrims from India who are bound for Mecca. The vaccination is a mandatory procedure for those looking to undertake the pilgrimage from India. The two batches of vaccines procured from Bio-Med have both failed quality tests, leaving the Health Ministry scrambling to acquire emergency supplies to fill the void. 

The decision to leave the vaccine production to a company already under investigation has drawn questions from experts. “It’s strange that the health authorities allowed the company which is already under the scanner to supply them vaccines just to save some money,” said a public health expert to Livemint, requesting anonymity.

The Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) called an urgent meeting on 5 July to discuss the issue. “It has been learnt from the initial results at CDL that the samples of quadrivalent meningococcal meningitis vaccine from Bio-Med are not giving satisfactory outcome although the final report is awaited,” it was said.

The vaccines were deemed an “emergency procurement” in light of the rapidly approaching Haj period, beginning on August 9th. Many Indian pilgrims will leave in the weeks before this date and so thorough vaccinations of the pilgrim population are vital. For the health authorities to procure vaccines from a company already under such heavy scrutiny is, however, an oddity.

As the unnamed health expert said, it may simply be a matter of cost. While Bio-Med sells meningitis vaccines at Rs 250 a dose to the government, importing the vaccines may cost the government anywhere between Rs1,500 and Rs 2,000 a dose.

In the wake of increasing scrutiny on vaccines meeting safety and quality standards, Bio-Med once again finds itself in the firing line. This may be an issue that could spark further problems in the future. As anti-vaccine sentiments grow both in India and across the globe, issues such as these add fuel to the fire, allowing the armchair scientists of the anti-vaccine community to continue to spread misconceptions.

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