A misleading television advertisement on a vaccine to protect children from severe gastrointestinal diseases has been withdrawn after a Delhi-based doctor approached the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), complaining against the advertisement that was on air in July on two channels. The ASCI agreed with the complaint of Delhi-based community medicine professional Nalini Abraham and asked the vaccine’s manufacturer GlaxoSmithKlime (GSK) to withdraw the commercial after its consumer complaints council found merit in Abraham’s petition. In her complaint, Abraham said vaccines were prescription drugs which were not advertised in India. Moreover, the advertisement had misleading claims that vaccine was the only way to treat rota virus infections and reduced infections. Nearly 150,000 children die every year due to such infections.
The ASCI asked GSK to withdraw the spot after it was found that the company’s claim that “vaccine is the only way to reduce the incidence of infections” was inadequately substantiated and the second claim of “rota virus vaccine is the only way to treat rota virus” was misleading. GSK assured the advertisement council that the TV commercial had been discontinued and will be modified appropriately later. The pharmaceutical major’s headquarters in Mumbai did not respond to Deccan Herald’s query on how long the TV spots were shown and whether there are similar advertisements for print as well. The vaccine advertisement appeared at a time when GSK and its rival Merck were pushing their expensive rotavirus vaccines in the Indian market, hoping for its inclusion in the universal immunisation programme. While the cost – about Rs 1,000 for a two dose vaccine – remains an issue, an indigenous vaccine is in the pipeline too. Independent doctors, however, questioned the government for permitting sale of these two vaccines without adequate trials. “It is surprising that these two vaccines have been approved for marketing in India by the regulators despite insufficient immunogenicity and absent efficacy data in Indian children,” Rakesh Lodha of AIIMS and Dheeraj Shah of the Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital reported in the journal of the Indian Paediatric Association.
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