New Delhi: The Indian health ministry on Saturday (November 18) challenged UN data on measles vaccinations in India, claiming that nearly 21,000 children had missed their first dose according to the ministry’s data as opposed to 1.1 million claimed in the reports.
The WHO and Unicef Estimates National Immunisation Coverage (WUENIC) in a joint report released earlier this year estimated that 1.1 million children had missed their first dose of the measles vaccine between January 1, 2022 to December 31, 2022.
The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the US Centres for Disease Control published on Friday (November 17) has cited this estimate. It lists India among the top 10 countries with infants who hadn’t received the measles first dose in 2022. India is fourth on the list after Nigeria (3 million), the Democratic Republic of Congo (1.8 million) and Ethiopia (1.7 million), the Telegraph reported.
The health ministry said UN data on India does “not reflect the true picture”, and pointed out that the ministry’s Health Management Information System shows that 26,363,270 among 26,384,580 eligible children had received the measles first dose during 2022-23, the Telegraph report said.
The ministry also said that it had taken multiple initiatives to ensure that all children receive all measles vaccine doses. Going by the ministry’s data, India has achieved 95% coverage which is imperative to combat the virus.
However, according to the experts quoted by the paper, the geographic distribution of the missed doses is needed to determine whether the immunisation gaps have left children in some pockets vulnerable.
“For measles, we need 95% coverage at all levels – state, district, city, town, village,” Tarun Bhatnagar, a scientist and public health specialist in the National Institute of Epidemiology, Chennai told the Telegraph. A country-level figure, Bhatnagar said, might mask uneven vaccination coverage and gaps at local levels.
He said that while it was not unusual for differences to show up between the ministry’s data and an estimate based on a modelling exercise, the difference between 1.1 million and 21,000 “is staggeringly large”.
This is the latest in a line of rows over health statistics. The health ministry has previously questioned estimates of Covid-19 deaths in the country and opposed the findings of a WHO exercise that pointed to more deaths than India’s official figures.