A post is being shared widely on social media with a claim that the polio vaccine was not introduced in India until 1995, when P. V. Narasimha Rao was the Prime Minister, despite its development in the U.S. in 1955. The post claims that Nehru and his family members (Indira and Rajiv Gandhi), failed to vaccinate children when they were Prime Ministers. Let’s fact-check the claim made in the post.
Claim: Polio vaccine was introduced in India in 1995. Nehru, Indira and Rajiv Gandhi could not start the vaccination during their prime ministership.
Fact: The polio vaccine was introduced in India much before 1995. It was part of the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI, 1978) and Universal Immunization Programme (UIP, 1985). So, the polio vaccination was implemented in India even during the tenures of Indira (1980-84) and Rajiv Gandhi (1984-89). But the National Immunization Days, commonly known as the Pulse Polio Immunization programme, were launched in India in 1995. Hence the claim made in the post is MISLEADING.
When we searched about the polio vaccination in India, a document titled – ‘Pulse Polio Programme in India’ was found on the website of the Indian Health Ministry. In the document, it can be read – “India committed to the resolution passed by World Health Assembly for global polio eradication in 1988. The country introduced polio vaccine under Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI, 1978), and subsequently in Universal Immunization Programme (UIP, 1985), but started carrying out special polio campaigns from 1995.” So, the polio vaccine was introduced in India in the 1970s itself and the vaccination was implemented in India even during the tenures of Indira (1980-84) and Rajiv Gandhi (1984-89).
On the website of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a 1996 article mentions – “As recently as 1994, however, large outbreaks of paralytic polio have occurred in the states of Gujarat, Karnataka, and Maharashtra, indicating that endemic and epidemic transmission of polio continued to occur despite substantial improvements in routine vaccination coverage with three doses of OPV among children aged 1 year (from 63% in 1988 to 90% in 1993).” An EPW journal article analyzing the polio conditions in India during the period from 1970 to 1995 can be read here. Another journal article regarding the ‘brief history of vaccines & vaccination in India’ can be read here. In the article, it can be read that the OPV (Oral Polio Vaccine) became available in India in 1967 and for the first time in India, indigenous Oral Polio Vaccine Trivalent (Sabin) was developed and produced in 1970.
In the ‘World Health’ (1995), the magazine of World Health Organization, it can be observed that India is marked as ‘Routine Immunization’ in the ‘Immunization and National Immunization Days (NIDs)’ map (as of September 1994), as India was yet to start the National Immunization Days for polio.
Also, the Gazette of India in 1973 mentions – “M/s. Decruz Corporation 44 Cawasji Patel Street, Bombay were granted a licence No. P/F/2022470/T/YR/40/H/33-34/ML-IT dated 12-7-1971 for the Import of Polio Vaccine (Oral Polio Vaccine) from U. S. S. R.” Some of the polio vaccination photos taken in India before 1995 can be seen here, here, and here.
To sum it up, the polio vaccine was introduced in India much before 1995. The ‘National Immunization Days’ started in 1995.